NC insurance commissioner visits senior center, fire station

Published 4:32 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Almost 100 people crowded into the Thomas A. Baum Senior Center in Kill Devil Hills Monday morning for a town hall meeting with North Carolina Department of Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.

Making one of several appearances in Dare County throughout the day, Causey provided a brief overview of services and functions his department provides. That list that includes regulating the insurance industry, licensing bail bondsmen and other professionals, investigating insurance fraud and child safety seat education.

Causey also serves as the state Fire Marshal with a staff that inspects and rates each of the 1,351 fire departments spread across the 100 counties in the state. Those ratings verify the level of fire protection provided which in turn enable homeowners and businesses throughout the state to be eligible to receive reduced insurance premium rates.

Another function of the department, and the main focus for the day, includes providing assistance to elderly North Carolinians, and others across the state, with Medicare and Medicaid questions through its nationally recognized Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program.

As a consumer information division of the North Carolina Department of Insurance, SHIIP was established in 1986 to offer free, objective information about Medicare, Medicare prescription drug coverage, Medicare Advantage, long-term care insurance and other health insurance issues with about 1,000 trained volunteers in the state provide one-on-one counseling in all 100 counties. According to SHIIP Director Melinda Munden, there are at least 16 volunteers in Dare County.

“Medicare can be confusing,” said Munden. “The main message today is that we are here to help.”

Two similar but different programs, Medicare is an insurance program and Medicaid is for low-income and financially needy people.

Medicare was created to deal with the high medical costs many older citizens face relative to the rest of the population and pays medical bills from a trust fund that those covered by it have paid into. An entitlement program, Medicare eligibility is not tied to individual need. Recipients are entitled to it because they paid for it through Social Security taxes.

Medicaid is for low-income and financially needy people, including those over 65 who may also be on Medicare. Although Medicaid was set up by the federal government it is administered differently in each state.

Even though someone may qualify for and receive coverage from both Medicare and Medicaid, being eligible for one program does not necessarily mean you are eligible for the other. Different eligibility requirements must be met for each program.

Munden also pointed out that new Medicare card are being mailed between April 2018 and April 2019. One change is that new cards will not have Social Security numbers. They will have a new Medicare Number unique to each person. A new card does not change coverage or benefits.

There were some cautions mentioned.

New card arrival dates could be different than for a friend, a neighbor or even a spouse.

Also beware of anyone contacting you about your new Medicare card. There is no fee and you should never be asked you to give personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card.

Other topic discussed at the town hall session included medicine drop boxes. With four deaths each day due to drug overdoses, opioids have become a huge issue.

According to Shannon Bullock, with the fire marshal’s office, 2016 data shows that overdose deaths surpassed the number of motor vehicle deaths.

Bullock encouraged everyone attending Monday’s town hall meeting to get rid of unwanted and no longer needed medications. Each beach police department has a medication drop box. Because medications flushed will eventually contaminate the water supply, drop boxes are the preferred disposal method since those medications are safely incinerated.

Bullock said more than 130 million pills have been collected since 2010.

Shifting gears, Bullock then covered a number of fire safety issues, including the need to check smoke detectors regularly. Bullock went on to point out that North Carolina has had an increase in the number of fire deaths.

“There were 83 last year,” said Bullock. “Most of those were from home fires. This year, with four months left, we are already at 104.”

After a lunch break Lisa Barker, Northeast Regional Manager, led a free Medicare 101 session to educate Medicare beneficiaries on how to get the most from their Medicare benefits.

For more information about SHIIP, or to get answers to Medicare questions, call 855-408-1212 or visit www.ncshiip.com.

During his trip to the Outer Banks, Causey also visited Douglas A. Remaley Fire Station 16 in Nags Head to congratulate the team on a recent fire rating improvement. Earlier this year officials with the North Carolina Department of Insurance and Office of State Fire Marshal inspected the Nags Head Fire Department to verify the level of fire protection it provides.

Among other things, the routine inspections look for proper staffing levels, sufficient equipment, proper maintenance of equipment, communications capabilities and availability of a water source. The result of that inspection was an improved fire protection class rating decrease from 4 to 2 on a 10 point scale with the lower the score the better the rating.

Although homeowners already realize the lowest possible insurance premiums available the improved rating will most likely have a positive impact on insurance premiums for Nags Head business owners.