In November, Dafna Gutfreund read in the newspaper that seniors were frustrated because they were having trouble completing forms for Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit plan.
Dafna, a16-year-old Teaneck resident, called her great-aunt in Florida to find out if she was having trouble with her forms, and her aunt agreed that the forms were too confusing.
"This seemed to be a typical reaction," said the junior at Teaneck’s Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for girls.
Dafna Gutfreund, right, helps Joy Amsel of Teaneck fill out her Medicare forms.
So she did something.
"My father is an insurance consultant, and he told me about the government Website, Medicare.gov," which takes visitors step-by-step through the filing process, said Dafna. "It took me five minutes to learn to use it."
She gathered a group of 1′ volunteers girls from all grades at her school and put together a team of computer-savvy teens ready to assist seniors with the new Medicare requirements. The group calls itself "HUG," short for "Helping Our Grandparents."
"Computers are a second language for us," said Dafna, adding that many seniors lack access to computers or don’t have the necessary computer knowledge.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 14 million out of 43 million people eligible for prescription drug coverage in the U.S. had enrolled in the program by mid-January.
And after May 15, enrollees will be locked into a plan for a full year. Those who need new medications during that time will have to petition their insurance companies through their doctors if they want to change drugs or use new prescriptions.
HUG volunteers collect the required data from individual enrollees and "feed" the customized information into the government Website, and then tell the seniors they are helping about all of their available options.
"We don’t favor one program over another," said Dafna, "but merely direct and educate seniors about their options and what co-payments might be under specific plans. We aim to find the top three," looking at factors such as price, benefits, and convenience. The girls also help seniors find local pharmacies.
So far, Dafna has helped 10 seniors fill out their forms and is advertising her group’s services on the Internet list-serve Teaneckshuls and the Website www.Seniors-Site.com. HUG has posted flyers throughout the community, including venues such as Meals on Wheels.
"I got in touch with a social worker who deals with seniors," said Dafna, "and she gave me a list of people we could help." Depending on how many people the girls find in New Jersey, they may reach out to New York seniors as well.
"It’s very fulfilling," said Dafna. "Through my research I already helped a Teaneck couple save $’,700. [The arrangement is] mutually beneficial. Seniors get the help they need, and we’re able to be involved with the community."