He Has Health-care Answers Volunteer Bob Sondrol Helps County Retirees Navigate The Medicare And Insurance Maze.

Posted: June 04, 2000

"Say, Bob. I just retired and signed up for Medicare. Am I covered, or what?"

"Oh, Mr. Sondrol. I have all of these medical bills and statements, and it's all so . . . well, baffling."

Bob Sondrol is confronted with such statements frequently. He is unfazed.

For one thing, he keeps himself well informed. For another, he is a retired Air Force officer, 77 years old, and a diabetic who has had operations for heart and cancer emergencies. It takes quite a bit to faze him.

"Health insurance can be complex, confusing and scary," he says. "Many people need somebody to talk with."

A Chester County resident who just turned 65 and has signed up for Medicare, he said, should call the county Department of Aging Services, which runs the Apprise Counseling Program.

"They will put that person in touch with an Apprise volunteer, somebody like me," said Sondrol, who retired as Chester County librarian in 1986, a job he took in 1970 after retiring from the Air Force.

In retirement, Sondrol taught himself about health insurance. He has read widely, attended seminars and taken classes, including one that the Department of Aging Services gives to all Apprise counselors.

And Sondrol would tell that new Medicare beneficiary that Medicare is fine, but supplemental insurance is necessary.

What kind?

"There are many, many plans being offered," he said. "You have to take a look at them and make a decision about which one will be best for you."

Sondrol will not "advise" anyone about which program to buy into. He will, however, let them know what kind of supplemental coverage is out there.

"Generally, the plans range from, say, A to J. The cheapest and most minimal coverage is provided by A. Most people need more than that."

(If you ask Sondrol what letter he would assign to the supplemental coverage he has for himself and his wife, Helen, 76, he says "H.")

He will also tell that person to establish a relationship with a primary physician.

"When you get sick, you are much better off going to that doctor than going to the emergency room at a hospital."

When a person comes to him with a fistful or more of medical bills, his first reaction is to help the person organize and review the bills, compare them with Medicare statements, and pay only those that absolutely are not covered by Medicare and insurance.

"Sometimes, doctors will bill the patient before being compensated by Medicare. If the patient pays the bill and then finds out that the cost has been covered, it's a real pain to recover the money from the doctor."

He will also help people to understand baffling forms and questionnaires.

Sondrol meets with seniors every month at the Oxford Senior Center, and he also makes "house calls."

"I'd rather not do house calls, but sometimes you have to go where the need is. I'm not complaining. I find this kind of volunteer work very, very rewarding."

Nadine Steward, in charge of the Apprise program at the county Department of Aging Services, says she would like to have more volunteers like Bob Sondrol. The need is great, she said.

"Health insurance is confusing for people of any age," she said. "In 1999, when the Medicare Plus Choice Program gave people several new ways to receive Medicare benefits, health insurance became even more confusing for the Medicare population. That's why the Apprise program can be so beneficial."

John Corr's e-mail address is jcorr@phillynews.com

For More Information

To find out more about the Apprise program, call the county's Department of Aging Services at 610-344-6353.

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