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Program saves county seniors more than $272K

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Despite challenges, SHICK volunteers still assisted 639 county residents — saving them $272,566 as a group on prescription drug plans.

A program in Harvey County to help senior citizens save on prescription drugs and insurance plans suffered the effects of COVID-19 this year; however, organizers believe a lack of staff and volunteers had more to do with a dip in service numbers than the virus. 

"We are down from last year, but I honestly believe it is because we were down volunteers and an [K-State Research and Extension] agent," said Anne Pitts, extension agent for Harvey County.

She was tasked with administration of the Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas (SHICK) for Harvey County when an agent was lost — and she had administrated the program in the past. 

Under the SHICK program, trained extension agents and volunteers help senior citizens explore all the options available to them and choose their best prescription plan under Medicare Part D.

"I think this is one of the best programs that this courthouse does," said Chip Westfall, county commissioner.

The Harvey County program was missing three volunteers while the Kansas State Research and Extension office lost a full-time extension agent.

"We were down volunteers out of general health concern," Pitts said. 

The program was able to utilize members of the Harvey County Department on Aging, as it has done for several years. 

The number of consultations was down by about 200 from a year ago — which Pitts attributed to the low staffing numbers. 

"I really don't think that COVID affected us much," Pitts said. "Our volunteers were very creative in how they reached out to people. They talked with them by phone to review plans, they [video conferenced] with them, they had plexiglass barriers ... they used creative ways to reach out."

The average savings realized by program participants was around $426. 

"That money is probably turned right back around into the community." said Randy Hague, county commissioner. "This helps the community. ... It is tremendous savings." 

Despite the challenges, program volunteers still assisted 639 county residents — saving them $272,566 as a group.

"That number could be a little higher," Pitts said. 

Her office and volunteers sent out more than three dozen paper forms to assist people who did not consult with volunteers or agents later. 

The SHICK program falls under the nationwide State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, which were set up by Congress. People eligible for free SHICK counseling include everyone over age 65 with a valid Medicare card, as well as disabled people of any age with a Medicare card, as long as they are past their 25th month of Social Security disability.

The program is available free of charge.