November 30th, 2020
What Does the Future of Senior Medicare Patrol Program Hold? Part 2
Over the course of the last four months, we have featured interviews from former directors, volunteers, partners and more celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Illinois Senior Medicare Patrol. We only have two more Fraud Alert's left in 2020 which will feature the oral history of how the SMP program in Illinois was started, what it has currently grown into and what the future holds for the next 25 years!

Last month we got to speak with Bill Benson, former Acting Assistant Secretary for Aging under the Clinton Administration, Jon Lavin, former CEO of AgeOptions to discuss where they think SMP Program is headed in the future. Please enjoy Part 2 of our 3 part interview series with Bill Benson and Jon Lavin below.

If you missed an Oral History of the Illinois Senior Medicare Patrol: Part 1, please click here to read it.

Marina Silva/Travis Trumitch:
Why is the SMP Program so important?

Jon Lavin:
The loss of resources to Medicare fraud is just shocking – even in just Illinois. We have to think about why would we give money to wasteful individuals instead of turning those dollars into powerful resources.

This is why the SMP message to prevent, detect, and report is so powerful. We also have to get people behind Medicare (CMS) and really get them to understand the great benefits of the program and being able to change and invest in healthcare. Healthcare is for all people and people need to realize what they have access to.

Marina Silva/Travis Trumitch:
What do you see as the future of the SMP Program?

Bill Benson:
We need to broaden the past educational role. Education equals prevention. The preventative part is critical and we need to do a better job. Our model is to speak to groups of older adults on preventative measures, this is a good approach but we need to find more effective ways outside of presentations. How can we reach MILLIONS? We can go out every day of the year, and we will not even get close to the millions that we should be reaching. We have to start recruiting ‘tech-wizs’ and have them dive deeper to find that issue that continues to drive scammers' fraudulent ways.

We need to engage in a more sophisticated way to combat fraud and take volunteers to a whole new level. Malcom Sparrow says something along the lines of “if you think you can end fraud by speaking, they’re two steps ahead." We need to find a way to chase after the larger fraud issues and develop online platforms that will reach hundreds. A virtual reach is huge, and we would reach numbers of people that we normally would not. We need to use technology to expand and share our message. Numbers are so vast and only growing – the future has to be scaled. We can experiment with SMP and improve detection. How does the program detect? We can utilize secret shoppers.

Jon Lavin:
SMP is presented with a concern, takes it, and moves it. The visibility is amazing. The more people that realize all the billions of dollars that are lost due to Medicare fraud each year, the better. We already have a great step in the right direction when we are able to have Pam Zekman sit down with current director, Travis Trumitch, twice over the past year to share stories in regards to fraud on the CBS 2 evening news. We have to continue to ensure that beneficiares are protecting their Medicare as well. SMP is a powerful program. SMP directors often graduate from the role and go on into amazing things.

Marina Silva/Travis Trumitch:
Any other comments or stories to share?

Jon Lavin:
25 years is amazing! So many people utilize Medicare now & they should know they have the right to protect it. Showing the billions of dollars lost is frustrating when we should be showing the savings, but this is a huge benefit to the entire country. 

Bill Benson:
We NEED to think about technology to detect now more than ever to reach/scale larger numbers. Take a look at shared savings to see how much SMP helped save. Show SMP programs saving/preventing money and how that money saved would look invested into SMP initiatives! 

I would like to personally thank Bill and Jon for speaking with Marina Silva and myself over the past few months. Without all their leadership, we would not have a program that has been so successful for 25 years at AgeOptions and for the State of Illinois.

Please check back on December 16, 2020 for Part 3, the final piece of our 3 part series, where Diane Slezak will address the Illinois Senior Medicare Patrol.
Bill Benson, President of Health Benefits ABCs (HBABCs), offering health and aging policy, educational and strategic planning consulting services, has a long association with elder abuse, anti-health care fraud, and consumer protection efforts. Since 1998 Benson has served as the National Policy Advisor to the National Adult Protective Services Association, representing state and local APS programs. He played a key role on behalf of NAPSA in drafting and enacting the Elder Justice Act and other legislative initiatives related to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. From 2006-2018 Benson worked with AoA’s national resource center for the states’ Senior Medicare Program (SMP) providing technical assistance to SMPs in their efforts to educate beneficiaries about fraud and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. As a former Acting Assistant Secretary for Aging at the U.S. Administration on Aging, he led AoA’s role in Operation Restore Trust, the U.S. Government’s national anti-Medicare and Medicaid fraud initiative, the establishment of the SMP program, and managed the Elder Rights program, among other responsibilities. Benson spent 8 years on Capitol Hill in senior roles and was heavily involved in the nursing home reform provisions of 1987 and the 1987 and 1992 reauthorizations of the Older Americans Act including the creation of the Elder Rights Title of the Act.  

Through his leadership as co-chair of the American Society on Aging’s Public Policy Committee, ASA adopted in 2018 elder abuse as one of its top two policy priorities. Benson co-founded and is president of the American Association for International Aging (IA2) which focuses on American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) elders. IA2 recently completed a federally funded project about health care providers’ experience in identifying elder abuse among AIAN patients. He is a former California State Long-Term Care Ombudsman and is a past president of the National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform (now Consumer Voice). Since 2000 Benson has hosted First Person, a series of conversations with survivors of the Holocaust before a live audience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 
Jonathan Lavin served from 1978 to 2018 as the Chief Executive Officer of AgeOptions – formerly the Suburban Cook County Area Agency on Aging, a non-profit corporation designated by the Illinois Department on Aging under the U. S. Older Americans Act and State Act on Aging.  
Over Mr. Lavin’s tenure as CEO, he oversaw organizational development in all facets of a large and complex organization, maintaining an understanding and interest in all programs and services directly provided and contracted out to community-based organizations (including non-profit, for-profit and governmental agencies).  During his tenure, he grew with the organization, establishing strategic planning, branding and identity, fund raising, human resources support, government relations, advocacy, technology infrastructure, corporate responsibility, financial integrity, and Board development skills and leadership, plus exposure to a variety of national organization’s structures and challenges as a Board Director.

Mr. Lavin lead advocacy efforts over his career including the establishment of the AgeOptions Advocacy Task Force which has identified policy issues effecting older persons in the region, educated all interested in aging policy and successfully advocated for legislation and administrative rules to improve care and benefits for older persons.
Have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving!

Travis Trumitch
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This project was supported, in part by grant number 90MPPG0036, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.
The Illinois SMP at AgeOptions partners with agencies across the state to empower and assist Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers to prevent, detect, and report health care fraud, errors, and abuse through outreach, counseling, and education.

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