Calling All Volunteers! An OHA Sage Plus Update


June 2003 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  When the Native Hawaiian Health Task Force was first convened in 1999, we originally focused our efforts on four underserved and vulnerable groups – keiki, ‘opio, kūpuna, and underinsured makua.  We came up with ambitious plans, such as the creation of a Hawaiian HMO.  However, this plan was not pursued when an actuarial study found that, since Hawaiians have disproportionately poor health compared to the rest of the population in Hawaii, OHA could lose up to $20 million per year.

The Task Force then decided to refocus its efforts on the most vulnerable segment of our community, our kūpuna.  In 1996, the Pacific Health Research Institute reported that the rates of death from major chronic disease were higher for Hawaiian elderly than non-Hawaiian elderly.  They attributed this disparity to the late diagnosis and treatment of health problems.  The Task Force felt it could deal with this problem immediately and ease the suffering of our kūpuna by providing valuable information on Medicare benefits through the OHA SAGE PLUS program.  Most people do not know that Medicare pays for many preventive services such as: 

  • Mammography for breast cancer screening
  • Pap smears for cervical cancer screening
  • Colorectal cancer screening
  • Bone mass measurements for osteoporosis
  • Diabetes self-management and blood glucose monitoring
  • Flu and Pneumonia vaccinations.

These Medicare benefits can be a key to long lasting good health and can help our kūpuna determine their health risks and needs for preventive medicine.

The Task Force developed the OHA SAGE PLUS program a year ago as an outreach program to ensure our Hawaiian kūpuna receive all of the Medicaid benefits that they are entitled.  The State Executive Office on Aging (EOA) will train volunteers to conduct informational presentations to assist kūpuna in assessing their eligibility for Medicare, Medigap, Medicare+Choice, Supplemental plans, Hospice, Long-Term Care Insurance, and Advanced Healthcare Directives and other health benefits.  The application process can get bewildering for many kūpuna since Medicare rules and regulations are constantly changing.  The EOA provides volunteers with regular training updates.

The OHA volunteers will also collect vital quantitative data that will be valuable in formulating future programs and strategies to help the kūpuna population.  This data can also be used to justify grant applications for federal funds and to convince our own State legislature to fund more programs to assist kūpuna.

OHA’s staff from Hilo, Kona, Kauai, Maui, and Molokai will be undergoing the training so that they may bring this valuable service to kūpuna on the neighbor islands.  One of the goals of the program is for the training to expand to the neighbor islands.

After a lifetime of dignity, independence, and hard work, many of our proud kūpuna are too embarrassed to ask outsiders for help.  They also believe it is shameful to air one’s problems in public.  The Pacific Health Research Institute recommended greater outreach to the kūpuna community by providing information and referrals, which the program hopes to accomplish.

It is unacceptable that our kūpuna continue to be denied life saving health benefits because they lack the information to access it.  We must strive to do everything possible to help our kupuna get the information they need to improve and prolong their quality of life.

Improving the health of our kūpuna will only make the greater Hawaiian community stronger.  How can we build a nation when we cannot properly care for the most vulnerable part of our community?  Unless something is done now, their health will continue to fail and we will risk prematurely losing their wisdom at a time when we need it the most, a time when every entitlement for Hawaiians are under attack.

The next OHA SAGE PLUS training workshop is set for June 9-10, 2003 from 8:30am-4:30pm at either the State Executive Office of Aging or at OHA.  If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please contact OHA staff member Nancy Holt at 594-1905.

An estimated 16,000 Hawaiian kūpuna are potentially eligible for Medicare program benefits.  We are determined to recruit at least 50 volunteers.  Our kūpuna generally feel more comfortable when people their own age explain things to them, however, all who passionately believe in assisting the elderly are urged to join the program.  Mahalo nui!

Board of Trustees Finally Passes A Program For Kupuna Health!

By Rowena Akana
August 2002

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA

SAGE PLUS: A Beginning

On June 20, 2002, the OHA Board of Trustees passed a program to ensure that Kupuna will be counseled on signing up for medical benefits they may be eligible for.

The Native Hawaiian Task Force was convened in 1999. The group was charged with developing health care options for OHA to pursue and originally focused on four underserved groups–keiki, ‘opio, kupuna,and underinsured makua. After reviewing many health care options, the task force decided that OHA should, in the least, provide a service to help kupuna sign up for any medical benefits they may be eligible for. OHA will partner with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the SAGE PLUS Program, operated by the State of Hawaii Executive Office on Aging, to develop an outreach program to ensure Native Hawaiian Kupuna are getting all of the Medicare and Medicaid benefits to which they are entitled.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that at least 50% of seniors who are eligible for Medicare Savings programs and/or Medicaid are not receiviing these benefits. It has been determined that over 16,000 Native Hawaiian kupuna are potentially eligible for program benefits. We would like to reach as many of this group as we can.

SAGE PLUS is a program which trains peer volunteers to provide information to senior citizens regarding available programs and eligibility requirements for Medicare and other benefits. The program also ensures that volunteers are linked into a network of providers who assist kupuna in a variety of areas. SAGE PLUS provides the initial training (two 8-hour sessions) and monthly follow-up to peer volunteers on each island. O’ahu volunteers receive weekly follow-up meetings. These follow-up meetings are necessary to keep the volunteers up to date. The volunteers will be trained to

* Explain Medicare, Medicare supplements, Medicare choices, and Medicaid;
* Explain benefits and coverage;
* Assist in completing and submitting claim forms, and
* Assist in contacting appropriate agencies to gather information and to make appropriate referrals.

At this time, my heartfelt thanks to the Native Hawaiian Task Force members and former members for all the time and effort they put in getting a health project passed to help our kupuna:

Current members: Dr. Thomas Au (Kauka Hui); Kim Birnie (Kauka Hui); Beth Geisting (Primary Care Assoc.); Claire Hughes (DOH, OHE); Richard Jackson (Queen’s Health Systems); Na’u Kamali’i (Papa Ola Lokahi); Kirk Lange (DOH OHP); Pi’ilani Pang (HMSA Uninsured Project); Mary Rydell (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services); Hardy Spoehr (Papa Ola Lokahi); and Paul Tom (HMA, Inc.). Past members have included Dr. Charmin Akina, Dr. Naleen Andrade, Gladys Brandt, Stephen Chong, Beadie Dawson, Sam Millington, Professor Noreen Mokuau, Charles Nakoa, Richard Paglinawan, Robert Oshiro, Sister Beatrice Tom, and Dr. Benjamin Young.

On another note:

“For the Love of Country: A Discussion About Native Americans Contribution to the U.S.” will be held on July 15 and 16, hosted by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Alaska Federation of Natives, National Congress of American Indians, DHHL, OHA, and Senators Akaka and Inouye.

This effort is being planned to help garner support for the passage of Senate Bill 746, better known as the Akaka Bill. My next column will be devoted to this event–bringing you up close to all the events that took place in Washington, D.C. during this two-day event. Until then, a hui hou!