Asked and Answered

Tell Us About Consumer Assistance

Christie%20Norrick_teaser.fw.pngMaking ends meet is an extremely worrisome task for low income seniors who are dependent upon ever-shrinking resources caused, in part, by devastating cuts to “safety net programs.” CJE’s Consumer Assistance Department is on the frontlines when it comes to connecting older adults to public benefits and other resources so they can maximize their personal assets and avoid crises. In a conversation with Christie Norrick, Manager of CJE’s Consumer Assistance Department, she noted that almost 2,000 clients gained access to approximately $2 million in benefits by working with our trained Resource Specialists. She also answered questions about what CJE does to help older adults and people with disabilities live healthy, financially stable and independent lives.

Q: What is Consumer Assistance?

Consumer Assistance (CA) is a free benefits counseling service. Our CA staff, known as Resource Specialists, help clients determine the best health insurance plans for their needs and can also untangle complex medical insurance issues. Resource Specialists also provide education and access to benefits older adults may be eligible for such as food stamps, transportation vouchers, prescription drugs, or utilities assistance. We provide help by phone, in-person and through community education presentations.

We offer the Benefits Check-up, a person-centered proactive approach, using the evidence-based National Council on Aging framework. Through a detailed checklist, we determine the benefits clients are eligible for so we can work diligently on their behalf.

Q: Who provides this counseling?

Our professional, full-time Resource Specialists do. They all have a minimum of a four-year degree and take part in ongoing skill-based training and other continuing education. Plus they are SHIP-certified.

Q: What is SHIP Certification?

SHIP stands for Senior Health Insurance Program and this is a state program that gets funding from the federal government to provide free local health coverage counseling to people with Medicare. As time goes on, a lot of people find they are paying higher out-of-pocket costs and more money on expenses like medications, deductibles and copays. In these cases, we will explore options with the client and find ways to save money. Clients may need help to appeal to their drug plan for an exception, or apply for a Patient Assistance Program.

Q: What is CA’s service area?

Our Resource Specialists meet with clients at CJE’s main office in the Bernard Horwich Building on Chicago’s north side. We also meet clients at other convenient sites, including the north and northwest suburbs by partnering with other organizations such as libraries and synagogues. Our “outposts” and hours are on CJE’s website: www.cje.net/supportive-resources/ consumer-assistance/locations-hours.

Q: Who uses your services?

There are no eligibility requirements, though the average age of our client is around 73… but we have had clients over 100 years old. Our clients are very diverse, from all walks of life. Many live alone and are low income, while others have suffered a recent and often catastrophic financial reversal or have experienced a crisis. We have many clients from the former Soviet Union, so several Resource Specialists speak Russian; other clients may have a disability. Many are looking for below market-rate housing, or for housing appropriate to their physical needs.

Q: What are some of the specific benefits that staff help clients obtain?

We help with government benefits that include: Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps), DHS Cash Assistance, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance, Lifeline Phone subsidies, Transportation programs, Real Estate Tax exemptions and Real Estate Tax Deferment Programs.

Healthcare benefits we assist with include: pharmaceutical assistance programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare Part D Extra Help, Low-Income Subsidy and Medicare Savings Plans.

Beyond helping people obtain these benefits, we explain how to use the benefits and advocate for solutions when problems arise. Many clients bring in their correspondence from the government—which can seem frightening or confusing—to have our Resource Specialists explain it.

In general, our staff helps identify resources for people on limited incomes. CJE has another service, Your Eldercare Consultants, for those who can afford a private geriatric care manager, but our primary role is to help low-income clients.

Q: What is aging in place?

Studies have shown that more than 85% of older adults want to continue to live in their homes—or “age in place”—in their communities rather than move to a nursing home or other residential community when they become more frail. CJE is committed to helping older adults live as independently as possible. Getting connected to community resources can help clients age in place and improve their quality of life.

Q: Of all the different costs associated with independent senior living, what usually represents the largest part of an older adult’s budget?

Housing is generally the greatest expense. Our clients have not typically paid off a home, and apartment rents have increased faster than other costs of living. Healthcare, utilities and transportation are also top on the list.

Q: At the time of this printing, what do experts in the industry think is next for Medicare?

Based on trends over the past five years and the current political climate, we think that Medicare will continue to function more like private insurance and less like a single-payer system. There are an increasing number of Medicare Advantage plans that pay for services within a specific network of providers. For people who have both Medicare and Medicaid, services are also being privatized. Payments from Medicare and Medicaid are moving away from fee-for-service and moving to payment based on managed care outcomes.

Q: Can you give some examples of how you help with Medicare benefits?

We show people how to enroll in Medicare, which includes applying for Part B or Part D. Clients also rely on staff to explain the options for additional coverage through a supplement or Medicare Advantage plan.

Q: How can I learn what my out-of-pocket costs will be under Medicare?

Costs for Medicare change each year and some costs depend on your income and when you enroll, so it is important to get updated information each year. You also need to consider that there are several parts of Medicare, and that each has different premiums, deductibles and cost sharing. You can also visit Medicare.gov for more info.

Q: What about Medicare providers? Is it hard to find a doctor who takes Medicare?

We can assist clients with finding a provider who takes their insurance. This is helpful for clients who don’t use computers, and calling a customer service line for a list of names is unwieldy. We encourage people to look at customer ratings of providers. For Medicaid it can be more difficult, especially for specialists.

Q: Does any other organization offer this service?

CJE is unique because we have full-time professionals on staff to handle clients’ needs. Other organizations have SHIP volunteers, without the depth and breadth of experience that our staff possesses. Clients benefit from the continuity of speaking with the same Resource Specialist each time they have a question or need help. Our turnover is very low.

Q: How can you offer free services?

Consumer Assistance relies on support from the Jewish Federation, private foundations, individual donors and contracts with government agencies. Every donation to support our work is appreciated.

CJE’s Consumer Assistance Resource Specialists are ready to help obtain the benefits you need, assist you in living at home independently, run a Benefits Check-up and much more. Call 773.508.1000 to ask a question or to make an appointment.