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The Cape Cod Chronicle on SHINE: Shining a Light for Seniors

Ryan Bray | Cape Cod Chronicle

When Ellenmarie Rhone retired full time to Chatham from New York City with her husband this past summer, one of the first things on her to-do list was to enroll in Medicare. But the process was complicated, even for Rhone, a seasoned human resources professional who dedicated her career to helping employees at her company find healthcare options that best fit them.

“It’s so difficult, and if I’m having difficulty understanding it, how does a lay person without many years of
experience with healthcare and insurance understand it?” she said.

Rhone quickly found out the differences between Medicare and traditional health insurance are many. There are separate coverages for medications and doctors. You also can’t be on your family’s plan. To better understand her Medicare options, Rhone got a consultation through the Cape and Islands SHINE program.

SHINE, an acronym for Serving the Health Insurance Needs Of Everyone, is a federal program geared toward helping seniors save money on their health insurance costs.

Kristina Whiton-O’Brien, regional program manager for the SHINE program servicing Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, said the program helps between 5,000 and 6,000 people in the region annually and is largely run by a team of 70 volunteer counselors who are trained to help seniors find the Medicare plan that best fits their individual needs.

“Our services are free, and they’re also unbiased.” Whiton-O’Brien said. “We’re not influenced by any particular company. We have to be very fair and diplomatic in terms of the advice we’re sharing with folks.” Through her consultation, Rhone was inspired to become a volunteer counselor herself. She underwent 40 hours of training and completed the necessary exam. She was also mentored by two other counselors, Pat Burke and Joanne Crowley. Together, the three counselors work as team servicing seniors in Chatham.

“They’ve been very supportive, and the program itself, I’ve met so many great people in Chatham, and I’ve gotten a really good view of the healthcare issues that are going on in the community and some of the struggles that people have,” she said. “So I feel that it’s been a really good use of my time.”

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