Being scammed prompted woman to help others

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Cynthia Battie O’Sullivan’s volunteer work, helping seniors navigate the often-confusing maze of Medicare choices and issues began with her husband falling victim to Medicare fraud.

She spent many years teaching public health at University of North Florida before retiring in 2016. Despite her extensive knowledge on related subjects, last year a scam artist was able to engage her husband in a Medicare fraud scheme that offered cardiac genetic screening.

When they received a test kit in the mail that asked for sensitive information, she began digging deeper into the scam artists behind it. Medicare fraud costs millions of dollars each year and if Medicare does not pay a bill, the scam artists will bill the Medicare recipient — sometimes for as much as $10,000.

Her research led to a volunteer named John Risler whom she says was “wonderful” in helping her discover the truth about the scam.

Risler volunteers for a Florida Department of Elder Affairs program called SHINE (Serving Health Needs of Elders) operated in Northeast Florida through the nonprofit ElderSource. SHINE offers seniors, adults with disabilities and their caregivers free, unbiased counseling on Medicare and health insurance issues.

Part of his volunteering includes working for Senior Medicare Patrol, which assists Medicare beneficiaries with reporting health care fraud, errors and abuse. Risler and other volunteers work with clients to report fraud to the proper federal agencies in a timely manner.

This positive experience convinced O’Sullivan that it was worthwhile to volunteer for SHINE, beginning last fall. She was impressed with the caliber of training, including the mentoring and background check required to become a volunteer.

“I had many days of training and a final exam that thankfully was open-book,” she said. “As a former professor of public health, I know the value of reaching people with this type of crucial health information. Medicare is very confusing. People are inundated with information about different plans and options. Some of it is misleading. Many people I speak with are very upset.”

She supplies clients who are new to Medicare with information about Medicare choices, but also helps those who have problems related to Medicare. She learned from her mentor to make sure that all clients who qualify for assistance with drug costs or medical costs get this help.

O’Sullivan has worked with many clients with a wide variety of backgrounds and needs through her volunteering experience. She has the time to listen to their stories and help them help themselves.

She said the work has been personally rewarding. She remembers a woman she helped recently who had lost her husband. He had been the one responsible for decisions about their Medicare plan. The woman was in tears during their first conversation.

“Helping her navigate the system and get into the right plan, and to a better place emotionally, was extremely rewarding,” O’Sullivan said. “It (volunteering) helps me, too, in my life. I really have enjoyed it. I’ve had people call me to thank me, telling me they are now confident about handling their medical bills.”

O’Sullivan was among area volunteers that ElderSource honored and thanked as part of April’s celebration of National Volunteer Month. The annual commemoration recognizes the importance of volunteering and the significant contributions volunteers make by donating their time and talents to worthy causes.

ElderSource’s SHINE volunteers provide local seniors free help with things like Medicare enrollment and coverage questions, plan comparisons, claims, billing issues, complaints and appeals and other related issues.

The nonprofit is seeking more volunteers throughout its seven-county service area. For information, email volunteers@myeldersource.org or call ElderSource at 904-391-6631.

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