Navigating the American health care system can be frustrating for anyone. The commercial options available can be contradictory, opaque, and hard to interpret. Then we hit 65, and Medicare is added to the menu. However, help is available.
Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) provides free and unbiased help navigating Medicare. Located throughout the state, SHIBA volunteers help people assess their healthcare coverage needs, determine their eligibility for coverage, evaluate and compare Medicare plans and programs, and help individuals enroll in a plan that fits their needs.
Robert “Bob” Osrowske became a volunteer counselor for SHIBA after he retired from decades with the Boeing company, working on both the Bomarc and Minuteman missile systems.
April is Volunteer Appreciation Month!
Last year, 919 Solid Ground volunteers donated 38,285 hours of their time, together valued at $1.3 million! Check out our blog post, Volunteers make our work possible!, to learn about all the different ways our volunteers partnered with us to build healthier communities and remove barriers that keep our neighbors from thriving.
In preparation for retirement, he attended a class on health care benefits, and the person who presented the lecture was a SHIBA volunteer. Upon officially retiring, Bob became a member of the Boeing Bluebills retirement volunteer group, which “would keep track of our volunteer time as part of our contribution to give back to the community.”
Born and raised in northern Minnesota, Bob was introduced to Washington state in the mid-1950s when his Navy enlistment ended and he came to Bremerton on a ship that was being decommissioned.
“I was on a ferry boat coming into Seattle,” says Bob. “I thought, ‘Man, there is no way that this isn’t going to be the most influential place in my life.’ I was sold on it. I have had my ears and fingers and toes frozen so many times. I thought, ‘If you want snow, you can go to the mountains in the wintertime. Otherwise, it’s easier to deal with drizzly rain than it is to deal with two or three feet of snow.’”
He first went through SHIBA training in 2005. While SHIBA volunteers help all year round, the busiest time of the year is during Medicare Open Enrollment, which falls toward the end of each calendar year. It’s the one timeframe when those already enrolled in Medicare can make changes to their coverage effective in the new year.
After becoming a certified SHIBA volunteer, Bob volunteered at various community partner organizations, offering face-to-face counseling help to the public. Over his 17 years as a SHIBA volunteer, he’s offered individual counseling at Peter Kirk Community Center, Redmond Senior and Community Center, and Northshore Senior Center in Bothell. Eventually he scaled back to just counseling at the Northshore Senior Center once a month.
“SHIBA has been a very special organization to volunteer for, because of the program and its ideals. If you have talents for public speaking, the public outreach and face-to-face or phone counseling are other opportunities to serve.” ~Bob Osrowske, longtime SHIBA volunteer
Bob answered people’s questions about Medicare, helped them determine their eligibility for health care coverage programs, and helped them enroll in Medicare. In addition to counseling, SHIBA volunteers also present to the public about how to get started in Medicare and how to detect and report Medicare fraud. Though Bob didn’t specialize in this area, SHIBA volunteers were asked to always mention problems with Medicare fraud – and were given statistics and told about fraud cases.
As he puts it, “All Medicare recipients should be conscious of and pay attention to the charges that they get on their explanation of benefits forms. If you see that you’re getting a charge from a doctor for a powered wheelchair and you don’t have a powered wheelchair, report it. That’s a huge red flag.”
In one case, a doctor sent a claim in for ankle surgery. What tipped Medicare off is that the person’s legs had been amputated. The resulting investigation led to a whole bunch of claims that were false. Before the case was settled, it was over $50 million.
Bob shares about his overall experience as a SHIBA volunteer with clarity and fondness. “We were set up to have three clients per monthly session. During open enrollment periods, we’ve had four sessions in November instead of one.”
SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors) began with an innovative group of volunteers in Skagit County, WA in 1979. They saw the challenges of navigating Medicare, learned everything they could, and began helping others in their community.
Since then, it’s expanded to a national, publicly funded program. Solid Ground has operated your local SHIBA office in King County in partnership with Washington state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner since 2021.
In 2022, Solid Ground SHIBA volunteers served 7,308 hours and assisted 4,607 King County residents.
Visit Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) for more info on Solid Ground’s SHIBA program.
Bob is especially appreciative of the assistance he got as a volunteer from the senior centers he supported. When he started out, he had to carry a SHIBA computer and printer and provide his own paper. Some senior centers would let him sign on to their networks, but others wouldn’t.
“At Kirkland, for instance, they were close to the public library, and I could pick up the public library’s Wi-Fi at the senior center. That was how I would get internet to be able to access SHIBA information during the counseling session.”
After one of the computer techs at Northshore Senior Center spoke with one of SHIBA’s state trainers, he was so impressed with the organization that, Bob says, “he put in a real good word for SHIBA.” Bob was assigned a computer with a SHIBA account on it as well as a printer.
“I didn’t have to carry the SHIBA computer and printer with me to set up every time I came in to counsel. They really worked with us, providing the counseling room when available, and extra counseling rooms for regular and extra sessions during the open enrollment period between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7 each year. That was very special, and they do their best to support us all the way through.”
After 17 years, Bob just retired from the SHIBA program in January 2023, but he remains enthusiastic about the program. As he says, “SHIBA has been a very special organization to volunteer for, because of the program and its ideals. It’s very good to do outreach. If you have talents for public speaking, for example, the public outreach and face-to-face or phone counseling are other opportunities to serve. Most people that I’ve counseled over the years are very appreciative of our efforts.”
Sam Stones, the SHIBA Coordinator at Solid Ground, shared that “Bob’s positive, can-do outlook will be greatly missed. His contribution to the community has been significant, assisting over 1,000 people during his service.” Thank you, Bob, for your amazing 17 years of service to the community!
If you have questions about Medicare and would like to connect with a SHIBA volunteer, contact Solid Ground’s SHIBA intake line, 206.753.4806, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program)
- RSVP is an AmeriCorps Seniors program that engages people age 55 and older in a diverse range of volunteer activities. Sponsored locally by Solid Ground, we match RSVP volunteers with opportunities to meet community needs at approximately 40 partner organizations
- EIA (Experience in Action) is RSVP’s member newsletter, printed three times a year.
- This piece by EIA contributor David Thornbrugh appears in SPRING 2023 EIA: Innovation.
- Are you 55+ and want to get involved? Contact email@example.com!