Oklahoma Stories

Helping Older Oklahomans

By Gail Banzet Ellis February 2021

Oklahoma DHS Aging Services provides needed help to Oklahoma’s elderly residents

woman putting hand on shoulder of older woman
Photo by Photographee.eu – stock.adobe.com

A few years ago, when her father was ill, Alfalfa Electric Cooperative member Robyn Turney found the saving grace of Aging Services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Her father required treatments five days a week, and the agency connected her with a transit group in Enid that could help transport him to his appointments. The service was a “godsend,” and she couldn’t believe her ears when she learned it was free.

“I was overwhelmed with what they could do,” she explains. “They could take him and bring him back for me, free of charge.”

Five years later, Turney finds herself in a similar situation with her mother, and DHS Aging Services continues to offer support. The biggest challenge in providing resources, says programs administrator Nadine Walter, is getting the word out to Oklahomans in need of help now or in the future.

“A lot of these individuals are having to make a choice between food or medicine,” she says. “They’re shut in due to COVID-19, their resources may be limited and they may not have anyone to trust. We would like to talk to them and find out if they’re eligible for any programs.”

Among the available services listed at http://bit.ly/OKDHSMedicareandMeds is MIPPA, a program created in 2008 known as Medicare and Medicines, that offers two components. The Low Income Subsidy (LIS) is intended to provide extra federal funding to Medicare Part D recipients by reducing monthly medical prescription costs.

“They may save up to an average $4,900 a year, depending on their income and assets. If every Oklahoman that is potentially eligible would enroll in LIS, the cost savings to the state could be substantial,” she says.

Walter explains that Oklahomans eligible for LIS also might qualify for an additional option—the Medicare Savings Program (MSP), which includes support from state Medicaid to help cover Medicare premiums. Other Medicare perks that many people are unaware of are the preventative health services covered at 100% or close to it.

When an individual contacts Aging Services for the LIS, a regional representative submits the interested party’s personal information to a program that determines eligibility. The Social Security Administration is notified and adjusts the person’s federal benefits before encouraging them to apply to MSP. Benefit options and application procedures can be confusing and complicated, especially to an elderly population, but Walter and her regional staff members are well-versed in explaining how it works.

“They don’t know what they may qualify for or how we can help them,” says southeast coordinator Marilyn Conley. “We take our time talking to them, answer their questions and make them feel more comfortable.”

DHS Aging Services regional representatives no longer can meet in person with clients because of COVID-19 restrictions, and even though social media blasts, Zoom meetings and phone calls are used instead, Walter says locating individuals who may be eligible is like “finding a needle in a haystack.” She explains that relaying the Aging Services information to community partners such as pharmacies, senior citizen centers and medical clinics is the most effective way to find low-income, rural residents who can utilize the resources. Whether it’s the Medicare and Medicines program, a question about caregiving, COVID-19 or any other issue related to Oklahoma’s elderly residents, Walter says Aging Services staff are here to help. Free prescriptions or payment for Medicare premiums could help stretch dollars that are desperately needed to pay other essential bills. Or, in Turney’s situation, Aging Services could provide alternative transportation and extra support to assist in caring for the loved ones in her life.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Turney says. “They came at a time when I needed it, and it’s a blessing that needs to be shared.”

Category: Oklahoma Stories

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