The Medicare open enrollment period officially begins Monday, October 15th. But before that comes many insurance providers have been tweaking the plans that they offer through the open marketplace.
When one Boardman woman received the notice about a change in her supplemental plan, she was shocked.
Meg Glines is an avid gym goer and says that her physical well-being is very important to her. Which is why she puts such a high value on the Silver Sneakers program.
Silver Sneakers is considered a "perk" offered by some insurance providers. The program provides those who are 65 and older with free gym memberships or access to fitness classes.
However, United Healthcare notified Glines that they will no longer offer Silver Sneakers on the AARP Supplemental Plan.
"My Silver Sneakers program is my wellness program for myself and my husband. We both attend the gym, and we utilize the Silver Sneakers classes," said Glines.
Glines uses her Silver Sneakers membership to take several classes at Creekside Fitness in Boardman, including aerobics, yoga, and senior drumming.
Glines said it's important to her.
"It helps us maintain our health, plus adds socialization to our lives. Especially in the morning. That's when I come to the classes," she said.
Plus, Glines said she sees it as a positive for their overall wellness.
"It's a true benefit. I'm not on any medications, I don't need doctors visits, I'm out of the hospitals. It's just purely for my health and my well-being," Glines said. "I see it as preventative care. I thought that insurance companies would look at it that way also; less hospital visits, less hospitals, less medications, less cost to the insurance company, less cost to me."
Trainers at Creekside say programs like Silver Sneakers are important to Valley seniors; providing health benefits as well as an opportunity to get out of the house and bond with others like them.
In addition, Andrea Leonard, a personal trainer at Creekside, says there are benefits that are important to older gym goers.
"Number one is we get them up and moving. They have better stability, less falls, better bone density. They're much stronger in general," Leonard said.
There's also proof that regular exercise can help fight conditions like diabetes, heart problems, osteoporosis, and many others.
Glines said it felt almost like a one-two punch to find out that the pan was dropping Silver Sneakers.
"It was a huge, huge discount. A huge financial impact in our lives. Now they're going to take that away from us," she said. "They are raising our premium next year $30 and they took our program away."
Once she got the letter Glines started looking for a way to keep her membership- without Silver Sneakers, it would have cost her several hundred dollars a year- something that's not only a burden on Glines but unthinkable for many seniors living on fixed incomes.
Glines said that she reached out to United Healthcare to ask them why they will no longer offer Silver Sneakers. She says the company told her that the program was being "underutilized".
"You say it's underutilization but you have our premiums. What difference does it make to you if we go to the gym or not? You have the premium, and you raised my rate, and you took away my Silver Sneakers," Glines exclaimed.
But it's not just Glines, she says she's heard from many other gym members that they're worried.
For now, those on the same plan are faced with a choice to pick a new plan that offers Silver Sneakers, or stick with it and lose the free gym membership.
Glines says looking through plans is not an easy task. She had an insurance broker to help her find a new one and it took them two and a half hours.
"There are a lot of factors that I have to think about. I have to look at what covers me. I have to look at the financial end, can I afford it? And does it include my Silver Sneakers," she said.
And though there's no estimate for how many Valley seniors will be impacted, Creekside fitness say they're working on figuring out exactly what's going on.
Managers say that their Silver Sneakers classes are their most widely attended classes at the gym.
21 News reached out to the Silver Sneakers program who sent this response Attributed to Jill Meyer, Vice President of Public Relations at Tivity Health:
"AARP Medicare Supplement Plans, insured by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company, has chosen not to offer the SilverSneakers™ benefit in Ohio beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
UnitedHealthcare also has Medicare Advantage Group Health Plans and SilverSneakers will continue to be offered to UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members in group health plans in Ohio next year.
The more than one million eligible SilverSneakers members in Ohio represent more than 40 health plans including Anthem, Aetna and Humana. Seniors can check eligibility at www.silversneakers.com, or contact their insurance provider about changes to their 2019 benefits."
United HealthCare has not responded to requests for information about why they dropped the Silver Sneakers.