Jana McKinney could use a little more help this time of year — she, and her reception staff at the Kansas State Research and Extension Office of McPherson County  reviewed 800 people's prescription drug plans.

"I would love to have a volunteer," McKinney said. "My office professional Lori Fisher is outstanding, and Terra Regier has done an excellent job helping. Without them, and the work they do 9THis could not happen). They do the scheduling. .... I am the only certified SHICK counselor here."

And while McKinney would love the help of a volunteer or two to evaluate plans, there is no mistaking the impact her office made this winter through the Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas (SHICK) program. Those 800 people she helped saved $264,000 on premiums and out of pocket costs next year.

In comparison, in Harvey County, eight representatives of SHICK met with 861 Harvey County residents and found $454,078.16 in combined savings for the upcoming year thanks to the Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas (SHICK) program.

SHICK representatives help seniors identify potential savings in their Medicare Part D options through a free counseling session. The program is run in McPherson County by McPherson County Kansas State Research and Extension. The service is free, helping with plans during open enrollment from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

"Seniors are not necessarily equipped to be bombarded with all the information they are being bombarded with," said Aaron Swank, extension agent in Harvey County. "... What we saw is that these prescription plans are charging more, and covering less. What is happening is seniors are getting automatically enrolled in the previous year's programs."

Seniors may think they have one less thing to worry about — but their premiums and coverages can change. One plan, one of the least expensive, nearly doubled for premiums alone this year.

In McPherson County, 560 of 800 people consulting SHICK changed their plans.

"Most people saved $470 right of the bat based on how one of the companies changed their plans. It used to be one of the least expensive, but it jumped up," McKinney said. "I did have a $58,000 save. I also had a couple of $10,000, $11,000 and $12,000 saves. What that means is that they had not gone shopping on their plan, and that is how much more it would have cost them."

The dollars saved is formulated on the Medicare.gov website by comparing annual estimated costs of a person’s current prescription plan to the savings found by switching to a more cost-effective plan.

Volunteers help seniors evaluate plans based on premium costs — and out of pocket costs for their prescriptions. 

There are training courses, and online training for volunteers — approximately 40 hours of training.

"If people just want to help with the part D, the drug part of it, that is a much shorter training and that training is online," McKinney said. "Just some mentoring, soon they are very comfortable doing it. The computer program we use to help us works very well."