Sometimes their job is to explain to a confused caller what a personality was really selling in a late night Medicare ad they saw on TV, other times it is to advise a caller distraught after his hospital stay coverage was denied.
Often times, they are the cavalry that comes to the aid of the elderly in difficult situations, but no matter how successful they are, not everyone knows their name.
Let’s face it, the name Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, or HICAP, isn’t exactly out of the mouth.
“Of course, it’s difficult for an agency that deals with Medicare that there isn’t an ‘M’ in our name,” admitted Linda Cardoza, Orange County program manager for HICAP. “I think someone is working on this.”
HICAP locations and times
The point is, the nonprofit HICAP – with offices in Irvine, Los Angeles, and Rancho Cucamonga – is just too big not to be known. It offers free, independent, and unbiased services to help people enrolled in or nearing Medicare.
Each office has a pool of trained volunteer counselors to answer questions, help select the appropriate Medicare Advantage plans, or help appeal denials of coverage. They can provide legal aid and representation in Medicare appeals or administrative hearings.
Last year, with so many jobs lost, HICAP offices were also called upon to help laid-off employees cope with the complexities of COBRA insurance coverage.
“People have even called us live from hospitals or healthcare facilities after learning their coverage has been denied,” Cardoza said. “That’s when we talk to them about everything they need to appeal. “
The organization cites the recent case of an elderly couple in Northern California who suddenly began to receive excessive bills for health insurance services that were previously free. Their daughter contacted their local HICAP and it was found that the father responded to a TV commercial and signed up for a new Medicare Advantage plan during the open enrollment period earlier. The new plan offered much less coverage.
HICAP advisers investigated and found her parents were being tricked into believing they had better coverage. Thanks to HICAP’s efforts, the couple’s old health insurance plan has been restored, avoiding additional costs.
“Some of these brokers are pretty skillful and they get hooked on certain people quickly,” she said.
Each of the advisors at the HICAP offices in Southern California is trained on the various Medicare Advantage plans that are unique to their county. Orange County HICAP has 40 volunteer counselors and can handle up to 1,300 callers from October 15 through December 15. 7 registration period so that registrants can make changes to their plans.
Cardoza said the Orange County office has been very active in reaching out to seniors to offer their services. Before the pandemic, volunteer counselors were posted to senior citizens’ centers across the county and made periodic visits to publicize HICAP services. This program is now slowly coming back into operation.
The Orange County office is also offering a two-hour Zoom-based video presentation outlining everything seniors need to know about negotiating the complexities of Medicare. Such videos in the past have been shown in person, which could resume in the near future assuming a reduction in the spread of COVID-19. Cordoza said the video could be viewed by people outside of his county, but that it describes options and plans that may only be available in Orange County.
She advised people outside of Orange County to contact their local HICAP to find out what services these offices offer.
“We want older people to use HICAP more often,” said Tatiana Fassieux of the nonprofit California Health Associates. “They can almost always help.
“We hear from people too often, ‘Well, I’ve heard friends talk about this plan or another,’ but really what was good for them doesn’t mean it will work for you. Get the real insights from HICAP about the choices you have before you.