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King County Library’s Tele-Town Hall

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If anyone doubted that many people over age 50 have a lot of questions about Medicare and Social Security, they only needed to call in and listen to the King County Library System’s first-ever Telephone Town Hall, presented May 18, 2016.

By the end of the 90-minute public forum, an estimated 16,775 people listened to some portion of the “Tele-Town Hall.” Peak attendance—those calling a designated phone line to join the conversation or simply to listen—was 2,218.

King County Library System (KCLS) presented the telephone call-in forum as a public service, addressing the broad need for more information on Social Security and Medicare. On hand to answer callers were two experts: Kirk Larson, public outreach specialist for the Social Security Administration’s Western Washington region, and Liz Mercer, the regional training consultant for the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA). The program was moderated by Wendy Pender, KCLS older adults project specialist.

Social Security, Larson explained, is a vital program for almost everyone, with 1.3 million people receiving benefits in the state of Washington alone, and over 62 million people receiving benefits nationally. For the average worker, he said, “Social Security was designed to replace about 40 percent of a person’s average working income, but today, one out of three people will depend on social Security for 90 percent of their retirement income.”

Larson added, “Understanding how Social Security will fit into your retirement strategy is very important in how you will live in your 60s, 70s and beyond.”

Mercer advised callers to “keep that 65th birthday in mind” because “most people become eligible for Medicare at age 65, regardless of when they start collecting Social Security.”

Medicare’s 2016 Open Enrollment period is October 15 through December 7, she said, adding that people should contact SHIBA at least three to five months before turning 65.

Mercer also urged people to do their homework and to contact SHIBA with questions about premiums, deductibles, dental care and co-insurance because “Medicare does not cover everything.”

Larson and Mercer answered each caller by turn, fielding questions ranging from drug costs, dental plans, eligibility, retirement issues, caregiving, disability, supplemental plans, timing, open enrollment, and various deadlines. Many callers sought information about how to address the needs of their loved ones, including spouses, partners, and parents.

While not all questions could be answered in the 90-minute session, many callers provided positive feedback, saying they not only learned valuable information from others’ questions, but were inspired to explore their own options and not put off critical decisions. Some emailed KCLS, thanking the library system for great community service and public outreach. One woman said she “really appreciated the info when I listened to the speakers. (It) gave me things to think about, and helped me understand my mom’s situation clearly.”

Both Larson and Mercer emphasized that government services are available and geared to helping people navigate the numerous individual circumstances and choices involved with Medicare and Social Security.

For more information on Social Security and Medicare, check out www.kcls.org; www.socialsecurity.gov; www.medicare.gov; and SHIBA at www.insurance.wa.gov.


King County Library System wants you to know that you can contact SHIBA at 1-800-562-6900 and you can meet with a SHIBA advisor live by appointment at the Newcastle or Shoreline libraries. SHIBA services are also available at about 30 other locations in King County.

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