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Free health insurance guidance center opens today

BROOKSVILLE — For the elderly and the disabled, navigating the health insurance offerings of some 45 companies in Hernando County can be a headache. Now, there is a new place where people can turn for help.

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs' SHINE program is opening an office at the Hernando County Mining Association Enrichment Center in Brooksville, where volunteer counselors will be able to offer free guidance and explanations, with no special motives or biases, said Robert Russano, chief area coordinator for the all-volunteer agency in Hernando and Citrus counties.

From 9 a.m. to noon today, SHINE — which stands for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elderly — will have a grand opening for its information and counseling center, adjacent to the Quarry Golf Course, 800 John Gary Grubbs Blvd.

According to a news release from the Department of Elder Affairs, SHINE "empowers elders to make informed decisions about their health care coverage." Questions about Medicare, Medicaid, prescription assistance, long-term planning and other issues can be addressed.

Russano concedes it's not an easy process for people.

When he, now 64, and his wife, Cindie, needed independent insurance, they began to research the possibilities.

"We're both college graduates, and it took us a week to work this out," he said.

His wife developed a spreadsheet of companies, their options, co-payments and deductibles.

"They're all different," Robert said.

Through thorough checking, "we were able to make an informed decision," he said. "In the process, we realized most people don't have the educational background to work this out."

So Russano teamed up with SHINE to spread his knowledge.

"Most (health insurance buyers) had got information from insurance companies, ... went for the company pitch and signed on," he said.

The new counseling site — SHINE's third in Hernando County — will be staffed by 12 trained volunteers, mainly white-collar retirees from such careers as human resources, health insurance or business management.

"One thing they have in common," Russano emphasized, "is that they want to give back to people. All the volunteers are dedicated. They have no special motives."

The new SHINE office will be open 1 to 3 p.m. each Wednesday.

The enrichment center also offers, for those age 55 and older, services including meals, hearing exams, telephone service for the hard of hearing, blood pressure checks and a haven during hurricanes.

Of SHINE, Russano pointed out: "We have no budget, so we are at the mercy of people who are willing to help us."

Beth N. Gray can be contacted at


Help, advice is available at three sites

In addition to the new SHINE office at the Hernando County Mining Association Enrichment Center in Brooksville, which will be open from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, the program offers weekly assistance at two other locations: The medical arts building at Brooksville Regional Hospital from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, and the medical arts building at Spring Hill Regional Hospital from 11 a.m. to noon Thursdays. Assistance is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. For information, call Robert Russano at (352) 345-8012. Information about the program is also available online at

Free health insurance guidance center opens today 09/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 7:57pm]
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