May I ask you a question? If you had to choose between having coverage for your prescription medications or having the benefit of a fitness program which would you choose? Why would I ask you such a question?

Please allow me to give you some more information. The Allwell Insurance Company sells Medicare Advantage plans to residents of Cochise County. Last year the monthly premium was $82 per month and included prescription coverage and the wellness benefit as well. However, in 2019 the seniors had to choose which one as they couldn’t have both if they lived in Cochise County.

Keep in mind that these are HMO plans, but this company has a different plan for each county. Health Maintenance Organizations are not new and have been around for years. All members are supposed to receive the same benefits for the same price.

For the residents of Pima County the monthly premium is $34 per month, of Santa Cruz County it’s $43 per month, of Yuma County it’s $58 per month and they enjoy both prescription coverage and the wellness benefit of a fitness program. Why the discrimination against the senior citizens of Cochise County?

Just to let you know I don’t have any personal stake in this issue as I have Medicare coverage through BCBS in Minnesota. I’m also a retired State Senator and am thoroughly confused by the huge disparity in benefits and premiums by Allwell Insurance.

I have been making phone calls to Allwell, to the Arizona Department of Insurance, to Medicare and State elected officials. I have yet to find anyone who can tell me why the difference or who had oversight for these changes. The State people tell me it’s a federal issue with Medicare and the Medicare people tell me to contact the AZ Department of Insurance. When I try to contact Allwell I just get the department to enroll new members.

Nobody has any answers as to why Cochise County seniors have to pay $48 more per month than their neighbors in Pima County for inferior coverage. Why would any insurance company treat their policyholders so poorly? Research has shown that seniors who participate in wellness programs have lower health care costs of 20 to 30 percent.

I regularly go to the Frontier Fitness facility in Benson and watch other seniors socialize with their peers. This is just as important as the physical workouts. Mental stimulation is needed as well for overall health.

Unfortunately the misguided policy of Allwell has already cost more than 200 seniors their fitness membership at just the Frontier Fitness facility in Benson! What about the remainder of Cochise County? How many seniors have lost fitness benefits in Bisbee, Douglas, Sierra Vista, Tombstone and Willcox? Thousands of seniors? Why? For more profits?

And why just for the seniors in Cochise County? We have a choice. We can do nothing or we can demand answers from the elected officials and bureaucrats. Who approved the changes? That question needs to be asked by the following people.

Please take a few moments and call them:

• U.S. Sen. Martha McSally at 202-224-2235

• U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema at 202-224-4521

• U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick at 202-225-2542

It is important to be respectful when talking to their staff. However, make it clear that you expect them to find out what has happened which may jeopardize seniors health in Cochise County! Also pass this onto you friends and family via social media. Discrimination is wrong.

In conclusion, it is important for seniors to know they have the right to change their Medicare Supplement up to March 31st if they are dissatisfied with their plan. Let’s all work together for the seniors in Cochise County.

Dan Stevens is a former Minnesota State Senator. He is a seasonal Benson resident.

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