Sometimes saving potentially thousands a year in medical costs is simply a matter of advocating for yourself and knowing where to go for help navigating the system.

“You gotta play the game,” Rogena Walden, certified counselor/volunteer coordinator for the NW Georgia Area Agency on Aging, told a dozen Rome residents on Medicare during her GeorgiaCares presentation “10 Ways to Save on Medicare” Wednesday at Rome-Floyd County Library. “(Pharmaceutical companies and medical providers) are playing games with you. You’ve gotta look out for number one here. Pharmaceutical companies are having more and more price hikes and are making money hand over fist. I call it greed. I don’t feel bad at all getting something for free if I can.”

Walden’s passion for providing cost-saving information to Medicare recipients through the organization that serves as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program caused her to come out of retirement, she said.

“This information can save lives because if someone can’t get prescription meds due to cost, that’s a serious problem,” said Walden, who stressed several times during her presentation she and her GeorgiaCares staff is dedicated to helping anyone with Medicare questions and is more than happy to walk them through discount program applications, advise on issues with co-pays and help them understand all of their options through the Rome office at 706-622-3635. “All you have to do is call us.”

Rome residents suffering from long-term ailments such as cancer, diabetes, COPD and heart failure took advantage of Walden’s 90-minute presentation, even though most of them admitted they had never heard of GeorgiaCares.

Walden said the lack of awareness about the volunteer-based program has been an issue for the past few years, but it hasn’t prevented them from saving people money.

Last year, GeorgiaCares saved Northwest Georgia residents a total of more than $500,000 in out-of-pocket costs, Walden said.

“This is even though 80% of us don’t know about GeorgiaCares,” she said with a laugh. “I want to double or triple that number next year.”

Walden shared numerous cost-saving tricks many people on Medicare might not be aware of, such as:

♦ Applying for the Medicaid-funded Medicare Savings Program to cover their Part B premium, depending on income and assets.

♦ Applying for the Social Security-funded Low-Income Subsidy to cover most of their Part D out-of-pocket costs, depending on income and assets.

♦ Getting discounts on their prescription medications through coupon programs such as GoodRx, GoodPill and NeedyMeds.

♦ Taking advantage of cost assistance offered by drug manufacturers.

♦ Talking to health care providers about generic drug options.

♦ Getting prescriptions by mail order.

♦ Getting free or discounted medications through Publix, Kroger, Walmart and the like.

♦ Getting a 90-day supply of a prescription, instead of every 30 days.

♦ Comparing drug plans for Medicare Part D.

Erna Dobbs, a 58-year-old Rome resident confined to a wheelchair after suffering from a nearly fatal medical event in 2016, told the group she learned quickly how to work the system to her greatest advantage in order to survive.

“I was 100% paralyzed and went through 13 months of rehab,” said Dobbs, now an information and referral clerk for the Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living. “I was facing a lot of new medications. So I made a list of all the pharmacies and called and asked what they were offering for each drug. I got my prescriptions filled at several different places.”

Walden used her smartphone to demonstrate a more high-tech option for finding savings on prescriptions through discount coupon providers like GoodRx. All a user has to do is anonymously punch in their drug and dosage and the website will show them the discounts available at various pharmacies near them.

A lesser-known option called GoodPill comes out of the Stone Mountain=area after legislation was passed in Georgia allowing for the redistribution of unused medications, she explained.

“The unexpired drugs are repackaged for others,” Walden said, stressing it’s not individual patients who are donating their unused meds, but official parties such as nursing homes and pharmacy suppliers.

Several meds Walden looked up on GoodPill.org were being offered for $6 for a 90-day supply.

Walden said it’s also important to shop for the best health care plan when Medicare Open Enrollment occurs Oct. 15 for 2020.

“One person came to me whose plan would cost $4,000 for the rest of the year,” she said. “I found her a plan with a premium and drug copay for only $194.”

The key is staying vigilant for your own best interests, she concluded.

“You’re worth it,” she said. “When it gets confusing, please call us.”