Purpose Prize Fellow 2006
Mobilizing older adults to provide health care benefits counseling and information
As a sociologist, Lois Steinberg, 79, did research on school advocacy groups in the 1960s, and discovered that parents had to organize underground networks in order to get schools to address their children’s needs. While earning a master’s degree in health advocacy in her 70s, Steinberg began to suspect that peer networks might also be an efficient way to tackle health illiteracy among older people. So in 2001, she created SOS Medicare (Seniors Speaking Out) with the Medicare Rights Center. The goal: to mobilize older volunteers in Westchester County, New York to provide health care counseling and information on their health rights and benefits to middle- and lower-income older adults in senior centers, clubs, and religious institutions. The organization’s outreach expanded when the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit was introduced in 2006. SOS volunteers now present forums on the subject and offer one-on-one counseling to help people select a prescription drug plan. Steinberg’s next undertaking is to develop a program to provide assertiveness training and advocacy tools to older adults and their adult children, so that they can be advocates for their own health care, and for those they care about.