Questions about Medicare coverage? A Florida program offers personalized help.

About 500 volunteers statewide are at the ready. They work for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, now in its 28th year.
Jim Tolbert, left, staffs a booth at a senior expo for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, a state program that answers Medicare and other insurance questions. The program has scheduled a number of events around the Tampa Bay area during Medicare's open enrollment period, Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
Jim Tolbert, left, staffs a booth at a senior expo for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, a state program that answers Medicare and other insurance questions. The program has scheduled a number of events around the Tampa Bay area during Medicare's open enrollment period, Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. [ Times (2015) ]
Published Oct. 14, 2019

Concerned about the Medicare alphabet? Part A. Part B. Part D.

If so, there is help at hand, compliments of a statewide system of volunteers ready to SHINE light on any and all questions concerning Medicare.

SHINE, which stands for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, is in its 28th year. Its volunteers, an estimated 500 statewide, interact with the public through one-on-one appointments, by phone (toll-free 1-800-963-5337) and by email (

The volunteers provide information and confidential counseling to people who are becoming eligible for Medicare at age 65 or those who already have Medicare, as well as their families and caregivers, according to the program. Topics that can be covered include enrollment and coverage, Medicare Parts A, B and D, supplement and Medicare Advantage plans, plan comparisons, Medicare claims and billing issues, complaints, appeals and financial assistance programs.

LifeTimes recently talked with Janet Mills, 81, the SHINE volunteer coordinator for Pinellas and Pasco counties, about the skills and services her volunteers provide.

Why was SHINE created? Can’t Medicare beneficiaries just come into a Medicare office?

Medicare doesn’t have any offices. It only has phone lines.

Where are SHINE volunteers located?

In every county in Florida.

Who can contact SHINE with Medicare questions?

Anybody that wants to learn more about Medicare, either has or is going to have Medicare. It could be a friend or relative. People with Social Security Disability get Medicare. Basically, it’s anyone.

Janet Mills has been volunteering with SHINE for about 15 years.
Janet Mills has been volunteering with SHINE for about 15 years. [ Courtesy of Geralyn Fortney ]

For people who book a one-on-one appointment at one of the SHINE sites, how long does the interview take?

Approximately an hour or less. We (confirm with) people beforehand the basic nature of their concerns. We tell them to bring in (names of) their doctors and a prescription drug list. A plan can look really good, but if your doctors aren’t contracted on that plan, they aren’t going to get paid. It can be quite a range in the last few years in the way prescription drugs are covered on these plans.

What other assistance do your volunteers offer?

We provide a lot of services. We provide counseling for enrollment into Medicare. We don’t tell (people) what to do in seeking their best options. We do assist with Medicare bills. We do assist with prescription drug costs and help with education of Plan B premiums.

Do you assist with problems dealing with Medicare?

We also provide assistance with navigating the appeals process. Have a problem and can’t resolve it? It can take weeks, if not months. There’s an appeals process if you don’t agree with a decision your Medicare provider has made. We explain what you can do and what you can’t do. We can also discuss the reporting of Medicare abuse and fraud.

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Since Medicare open enrollment is between now and Dec. 7, what do your counselors recommend to seniors?

It’s really important that people re-evaluate their plan. There are a lot of obstacles, a lot of bells and whistles. Some plans already are providing meals after being hospitalized and then at home. Now that may be expanding.

Are there any statistics on how many people have been helped by SHINE in this area?

We help people one person at a time. In 2018, in Pinellas and Pasco, we helped 22,000 people.

Who are your volunteers? Where do you find volunteers?

We’re always looking for new volunteers. All, for the most part, are on Medicare and retired. All are lifelong learners. They care about helping people. They have lots of patience. There’s online training. They take a test. They are mentored for six nights. SHINE is an unusual program. It has a very complete and extensive training program for those who like to learn and help people. It’s either for you or it’s not for you. We have about 55 volunteers in Pinellas and Pasco.

How long have you been volunteering with SHINE?

About 15 years. I’m one of those old people who really believes, when doing something, do (your) best. I’m a volunteer, too, and a coordinator. I take on more hours — 60 to 70 hours a week — helping people to get to their comfort zone. People have different learning styles.

Contact Fred W. Wright Jr. at


One-on-ones with SHINE

The Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders program, or SHINE, offers free help with Medicare at dozens of locations across the Tampa Bay area. You can find the site closest to you and information about making an appointment online.





Medicare presentations

SHINE also offers free presentations on “Medicare Basics, “Medicare Fraud" and more. Below is a sampling, by county. (Hernando County currently has no events scheduled.) For a complete schedule and details, visit and click on “Community Events.” Reservations are required for many of the events, so it may be best to call ahead.


Oct. 16: “Medicare Financial Assistance Programs” webinar, noon to 1 p.m., Hillsborough County Extension Service, 5339 County Road 579, Seffner

Oct. 20: Sunday:10/20 OEP (Open Enrollment Period) Enrollment Event, noon to 4 p.m., Senior Connection Center, 8928 Brittany Way, Tampa; toll-free 1-800-963-5337

Oct. 23: OEP Enrollment Education, 11 a.m. to noon, Senior Connection Center, 8928 Brittany Way, Tampa, toll-free 1-866-300-2565


Oct. 15: Medicare Advantage Plan, 2:30 p.m., Aging Well Center in the Long Center, 1501 N Belcher Road, Clearwater; (727) 724-3070

Oct. 15: Medicare Part D, 10 a.m., Hale Activity Senior Center, 330 Douglas Ave., Dunedin; (727) 298-3299

Oct. 18: Medicare Basics and Medicare Fraud, 10 a.m., Advent Health North Pinellas, Conference Rooms A & B, second floor, 1395 S Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs; (727) 943-3600

Oct. 19: Medicare Basics & OEP (Open Enrollment Period), 2 p.m., Safety Harbor Library, 101 Second St. N; (727) 724-1525

Oct. 19: Medicare Prescription Drug Plans Presentation, 10 a.m., Dunedin Public Library, 223 Douglas Ave.; (727) 298-3080


Oct. 15: Medicare Basics, 1 p.m., Hudson Library, 8012 Library Road; (727) 861-3040

Oct. 15: Medicare Basics, 10 a.m., South Holiday Library, 4649 Mile Stretch Road; (727) 834-3331

Oct. 16: Medicare Basics, 10:30 a.m., New Port Richey Library, 5939 Main St.; (727) 853-1279

Oct. 17: Medicare Basics, 4 p.m., Zephyrhills Public Library, 534 Eighth St.; (813) 780-0064

Oct. 19: Medicare Basics, 10 a.m., Land O’ Lakes Library, 2818 Collier Parkway; (813) 929-1214