Mailers, come-hither salespeople and no-obligation TV ads: Happy 65th birthday

Columnist Michele Miller shares her husband’s journey to get on Medicare and how local volunteers can help seniors navigate the system.
Medicare can be confusing. But there's help from trained counselors for SHINE. Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders is a free program offered by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and your local Area Agency on Aging.
Medicare can be confusing. But there's help from trained counselors for SHINE. Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders is a free program offered by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and your local Area Agency on Aging. [ MICHELE MILLER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 10, 2019

The young man ringing the doorbell was the latest in a series of unwanted suitors looking to speak with Mr. Miller.

“I’m assuming you’re here to talk about insurance?” I asked, watching as his smile faded.

“Well, yeah — Medicare,” was the sheepish reply.

Lucky for him, the man of the house was not at home.

Otherwise, he’d be chasing the salesman off our front stoop and ranting about how all these people know he’s turning 65, and “WHERE THE HECK DID THEY GET MY ADDRESS??!!”

"I understand you have a job to do,” I told the salesman, but it was best to beat feet out of there.

Evidently, this is something to look forward to when you turn a certain age.

Happy 65th birthday. Here comes the onslaught of mailers, come-hither insurance salespeople lurking at the supermarket, and the “no-obligation-to-buy” television commercials directed to a generation watching re-runs of M*A*S*H and Barney Miller.

Really, I don’t think the old man’s ever been more popular.

Or confused.

Medicare open enrollment is Oct. 15-Dec. 7, and he’s got choices to make. Figuring it out is more complicated than the spoon-fed employer plans many are accustomed to.

The alphabet comes into it, with parts A, B, C, D. There are Medigap supplements, donut holes, prescription drug options, and Advantage plans to figure out.

It’s probably best to get that information from an advocate — not someone commissioned to sell their version of the best plan for you.

Where to start? SHINE, the acronym for an agency called Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders. That’s the organization I was referred to after reaching out to county government offices.

SHINE is a free program, established in 1992, offered by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. There are 11 planning and service areas in Florida that are overseen by various elder agencies.

In 2017, SHINE counselors documented nearly 18,000 one-on-one interactions with elders to review their Medicare coverage, according to Kyrie-Leigh Chambliss, liaison/volunteer manager at the Senior Connection Center in Hillsborough County.

Whether you have questions about the enrollment process or need help comparing personalized plans, SHINE counselors can help, she said. They also can help identify financial assistance programs and help with Medicare claims and appeals.

The program is powered by an army of trained volunteers like Janet Mills, 80, a former social worker who can provide unbiased counseling for those navigating Medicare. Mills is the lead volunteer for Pasco and Pinellas SHINE and has read the new Medicare and You book cover-to-cover.

I really believe in what this program does. I’m here because I care,” she said. "I deal with a lot of people who are frustrated, confused, and sometimes they are lonely.

“We’re not selling anything. Our job is to educate you on what your options are, so you can make your best decision.”

Informational sessions, often held at local libraries or senior centers, can shed light on eligibility requirements, coverage options, deadlines and what to do if you are working and want to stay with your company insurance. There will be hand-outs, but bring a notebook and pen. There typically is a sign-up sheet for one-one-one counseling, or you can call the hotline.

Those who already have Medicare should revisit their options, because coverage and networks can change every year, Chambliss said.

“The big issue in coming to Medicare is people don’t know what they don’t know,” Chambliss said. “We want to make them aware that you do not have to do this alone. You don’t have to be stressed. You don’t have to be scared. We’re here to help."

As for that young insurance salesman ... I should have taken his card and made a call to the new Senior Medicare Patrol task force. Turns out, door-to-door pitches are against the rules when it comes to broker behavior.

Who knew?

For information on SHINE and counseling sites in your area, go to or call (800) 963-5337, TTD/TTY (800) 955-8770. Email: