Berta Medina is a long-time employee of the VCAAA and has spent most of that time working in HICAP – the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program – in which she and others provide Medicare counseling to older adults in Ventura County. Here is her story:
Q: How long have you worked at the VCAAA?
A: I started here nine years ago. I started with a new program that we had at the time, CCT (Community Care Transition), but that program stopped after two or three months. When I started working here, I had already finished my bachelor’s degree in business management at CSUN, and I thought I was only going to be here a few months.
When the program ended, I thought I would leave, or be laid off, but they needed me on Information & Assistance, and I was helping MSSP also, so I was moving around, and I started enjoying helping people and providing services to them.
Q: What would you have done with your business management degree?
A: Something I had in my mind was opening a small smoothie shop. I come from a family that has had several small businesses, like my husband and my brother-in-law. My grandmother, when she was young, she had a restaurant in Mexico. My sister has a restaurant in Lone Pine. So, I wanted to do something like that. But then I started working here, and I liked what I was doing.
Q: How did you end up working with HICAP?
A: The Information & Assistance team was very small at that time. We didn’t take many calls. I wanted to do something else, and I asked to be transferred to HICAP. I had helped the former manager at some events. She probably asked for me because I was bilingual. But I saw the need for a bilingual Medicare counselor. It was a challenge because you have to learn so much. I was not bored. Because I saw that what I was doing was needed, that was one of the things that kept me here instead of going back to what I had studied. I like to care for people. I like to provide good customer service.
Q: Explain what HICAP is to someone who might not know.
A: We provide counseling to Medicare recipients, or those who are new to Medicare. We help with medical billing issues, or any issues related to Medicare and some on Medi-Cal. Many clients don’t know how Medicare works. We advocate for them, we guide them, we educate them, we inform them, and help them to resolve their issues.
Q: What’s an example of how you have helped someone?
A: There are clients who have Medicare and Medi-Cal that come in. They have enrolled in a Medicare Advantage program, but they do not know how it works and they keep going to the same providers, who are not part of the plan’s network, and they end up with a medical bill. I have had several people in the same situation. One of them, I helped a client with a medical bill that she incurred because she kept going to her same doctors. The bill was a little over $1,000, but after I talked to her doctor’s office billing department and explained the client’s situation and asked them to see if there was a way to reduce that bill and make smaller co-payments, they were willing to reduce it to something like $300. This client had the same provider for many years, and she wanted to keep going to her doctors.
Q: What specifically is your job?
A: For the last two years, my job title has been HICAP outreach and volunteer coordinator, plus I’m registered as a HICAP counselor. So, part of my job is to coordinate outreach and presentations to inform and educate the community. I will coordinate our volunteers to go and do those. If a volunteer isn’t available, I may step in and do it. I’m the bilingual Medicare counselor and I’ll also handle the schedule to provide counseling in person or by phone to our clients.
Q: The volunteers are an important part of your department, then?
A: Our volunteer counselors, they really have made a commitment. Some of them have been here longer than me. They really love what they are doing because they keep coming back. They care about the seniors in our community, which I share with them. I really value what they are doing. It motivates me to keep going and do the extra mile. This is one of the reasons I like to work here. Volunteer counselors demonstrate the commitment, passion and love for the volunteer work they do here at VCAAA.
Q: You were born in Mexico. When did you come to the U.S., and what did you do when you got here?
A: I came here in my early 20s. I have been a Ventura County resident for more than 38 years. In Mexico I never worked, I just went to school. I came here with my husband, who was already living here. I worked for some different employers and big companies, but I was looking for something else. I wanted to study child development because of my son and because I wanted to work in that field. I became a preschool teacher with Head Start. But after working there for many years, then I decided to stay home because of family health issues.
Q: And then you filled your time by taking community college classes?
A: I went back to school. That was my hobby, taking classes. Without realizing it, I earned four associate degrees. The first one came years earlier in child development when I was working in that field. When I went back to Oxnard and Ventura College, I earned associate degrees in liberal arts, accounting, and business management. I have a CNA (certified nursing assistant), and certificates in bookkeeping and real estate. I know it sounds kind of crazy. But it was my hobby, and I like to learn new things.
Q: Eventually, you ended up getting your bachelor’s degree from CSUN?
A: I wasn’t planning on transferring to a university, but when I went to talk to a counselor to sign the paperwork on all the associate degrees, he said I didn’t belong there anymore, and that I needed to go talk to the transfer counselor. I spoke with her and applied to CSUN. A representative from CSUN asked why I had taken so many units and told me I should already have a master’s degree. So, I ended up going to CSUN to study business management.
Q: Other than attending college classes, what are your hobbies?
A: I like to watch good movies and read good books. I keep buying them, but I haven’t read them all, so I have an extensive library. I also love my time with my German Shepherd. If I have any stress, he helps me with that. I talk to him as another member of my family.
To learn more about the HICAP department or to schedule your own Medicare appointment, call (805) 477-7300 or visit vcaaa.org/hicap.