Local healthcare professionals have discovered that many of the 88,000 Washington, D.C. residents enrolled in Medicare aren’t using the program to its full benefit. The federal health insurance, created in 1965, helps citizens 65 and older and sometimes younger people with chronic challenges.  

(Courtesy Photo/nia.nih.gov)

While it is clear Medicare assists the aging and ill, there are nuances about enrollment and coverage in the program that go far beyond getting older or being sick.  

“I think it’s important to note that seniors and most people are confused about Medicare. The terminology, the complexity around Medicare is confusing for most people,” Rita Tolbert, director of multicultural marketing at UnitedHealthcare, told the AFRO.

Tolbert noticed that Blacks could benefit from learning more about Medicare. To demystify Medicare and encourage overall healthy living, UnitedHealthcare, in collaboration with AARP and Interlex, launched the “A Better You” program in 2014. The program is currently on tour throughout the country to teach citizens about Medicare and how to benefit from it.

“The purpose of the ‘A Better You’ initiative is to reach out to our African-American communities and present information that is ethnically and culturally relevant . . . and to help them understand Medicare so that they are more empowered to make the right decisions. Not just how to use it but how they address all their health issues,” Tolbert said.

The program operates in Black communities and promotes maintaining a healthy mind, body, and spirit and knowing the important factors to receive the most out of the healthcare offered. “So we make a point of ensuring that this is a holistic approach to your wellness, to your healthcare,” said Tolbert.

Tolbert said the initiative seeks to attract Black audiences through the choice of incorporating elements that are important to the Black community, such as fitness experts, church leaders, life coaches, and musical entertainment.

On June 17, “A Better You” held events in Washington, D.C., addressing the initiative’s three pillars: spiritual, physical, and educational. The event included keynote speakers Ernestine Shepherd, the record-breaking 80-year-old bodybuilder, and Drs. Dennis and Christine Wiley, pastors of the Covenant Baptist Church UCC in northwest D.C.

As a Guinness World Book record-breaker, Shepherd shared a personal story about her journey to fitness and bodybuilding and her diet and exercise tips to attain and maintain physical health. The Wileys offered the D.C. audience tools to achieve spiritual and mental health, and tips on planning for now and the future.

“Let’s put it this way: It’s a lot fun,” Shepherd said.  “They have wonderful entertainment . . . and inspire people to learn all the information.  Most people don’t even know half of the benefits.  It’s very, very informative.”

Shepherd said her husband is ill and has been in the hospital.  While in a waiting room, the bodybuilder shared her particular appreciation for learning all about health coverage at the “A Better You” events.

“I could just stand and tell everybody all the wonderful benefits I have received for my husband . . . Like when you leave the hospital you can go to a place for therapy and after you leave therapy you can get a nurse to come to your home and all of this is through the plan,” said Shepherd.

Like Shepherd, who has found herself in the role of caretaker, Tolbert said the event is not just for those who are about to be or are already eligible for Medicare, but also young people who may find themselves needing to know the logistics for someone else or may just want more information on healthy lifestyle choices. “The entire program is around inspiring, empowering, and providing knowledge that makes everyone a better you,” Tolbert said.

The “A Better You” program is scheduled to travel to Black communities throughout the summer, such as those in New Orleans and Oakland. The program’s next stop in on July 7 in Chicago, Ill.