By Tien-Shun Lee
Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) joined senior citizens at the Flushing Pomonok Senior Center Tuesday to celebrate the launching of a health care program that gives Medicare beneficiaries the option of paying a little more to go to doctors outside their provider network.
“The current administration believes that people on Medicare should have similar health care choices to those on private health insurance,” said Stuart Lefkowich, the vice president of GHI Medicare.
With the new GHI Medicare Choice PPO program, which costs nothing extra for New York City Medicare beneficiaries and $100 per month for Westchester and Rockland counties Medicare beneficiaries, patients can go to an out-of-network doctor and pay about 20 percent of the regular costs for services. The program would pay for the remaining 80 percent.
In addition to allowing more out-of-network flexibility, the GHI Medicare Choice PPO program also covers some prescription drugs and some services, including dental services, hearing aid exams and eyeglasses services that are not covered by regular Medicare.
To qualify for Medicare benefits, individuals must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, at least 65 years of age and must have worked for at least 10 years in Medicare-covered employment.
The new program was approved by the federal government in January and is being offered as a pilot demonstration in 12 metropolitan areas throughout the country, Lefkowich said. If the pilot programs have proved successful by 2005, the government will begin offering it throughout the country on a regular basis.
“I want you to know that your health is the most important thing,” said Marshall, before joining seniors in some group exercises led by fitness trainer Kathleen Trocine. “We have had GHI in our family for as long as I can remember, and we've always liked that we could go to the doctor of our choice.”
Gennaro, who recently underwent an operation for his sinuses, agreed with Marshall.
“This is what I walk around with,” he said, holding up his GHI card. “I've been a GHI subscriber for over 20 years. I could've gone other places, but I didn't. They've always taken care of me.”
Lefkowich said 108 out of the one million Medicare beneficiaries in the city had signed up so far for the program. He expected more than 4,000 beneficiaries to sign up in the first year.
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by email at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.