Benefits Counseling is available through the Area Agency on Aging to provide information and assistance about health insurance options, public benefits and entitlements. Help is available for persons 60 years and older and to Medicare beneficiaries of any age. Benefits Counselors can also provide intervention and advocacy when it is needed, and have access to advice from lawyers who staff the Legal Hotline for Older Texans.
Specifically, trained AAA staff assists clients in understanding public and private benefits. Assistance with pathways to finding a Medicare supplemental policy, questions about Social Security benefits, questions about insurance claim forms and hospital and doctor bills, or help with filling out a form to start Medicaid benefits are some of the areas where clients can find assistance. Benefits Counselors confer with clients over the telephone, in the office, or will make home visits where it is more convenient for the client. At the time that a client calls or comes in to the office, a particular need is targeted. The client and Benefits Counselor fill out an intake information form which the client signs giving permission for counselor assistance. Care is taken to maintain client confidentiality.
Staff at the Permian Basin Area Agency on Aging is now certified to assist with completing Advance Directives. This process was a factor in the 77th Texas Legislature in Government Code Section 81.1011 as an amendment to the “Practice of Law” statute. The Four documents that Benefits Counselors may assist in completing are:
• Medical Power of Attorney
• Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogate
• Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate
• Declaration of Guardian Before Need Arises
Because we are federally funded, preparation of Advance Directives and most services are provided free of charge. Donations from individuals and corporations are accepted and appreciated as that allows us to serve even more seniors.
The Benefits Counseling program is addressed in the Older Americans Act of 1965. Insurance benefits and public benefits are the primary areas of involvement, with the requirement to give priority to older individuals with greatest economical need. In addition to providing counseling services, outreach activities are conducted to inform older individuals of available benefits. The Texas Administrative Code defines these two components as Legal Assistance and Legal Awareness.