group photo
Introduction to Medicare cohort before COVID-19.

The first course training students to earn a national Medicare counseling certification began this past spring at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The inaugural cohort of the Introduction to Medicare started with 11 students from the Office of Public Health Studies and the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work.

This new course was the first partnership between the Executive Office on Aging (EOA), Hawaiʻi State Health Insurance Assistance Program (State Health Insurance Assistance Program) and UH Mānoa’s Office of Public Health Studies and School of Social Work.

“This was the first joint course between Public Health and Social Work, the first course sponsored by the DOH Executive Office of Aging, and the first course using a national Medicare curriculum,” said Victoria Fan, UH Mānoa associate professor of health policy.

people on Zoom
Introduction to Medicare transition to a Zoom classroom.

The innovative curriculum used a variety of modalities to familiarize students with Medicare. Training included online learning modules from the national SHIP network, guest speakers from EOA and case study reviews with Hawaiʻi SHIP staff and volunteers.

“It was rewarding to learn alongside both the students and teaching team throughout this innovative course offering, which pairs extensive Medicare knowledge with tangible real world application,” said Whitney Kim, a MSW student and Pacific Health Analytics Collaborative graduate assistant.

Service learning projects

Students were split into four groups to develop service learning projects. Two groups explored health insurance options for the Marshallese community and veterans and their spouses. Another group focused on dual-eligible populations that qualify for Medicare and Medicaid. The last group translated basic Medicare information into Korean and Tagalog for people with limited English.

“From day one we had an amazing teaching team and the Hawaiʻi Executive Office on Aging that were welcoming and helpful,” said Justin Mortensen, an undergraduate public health student. “They made learning a complicated insurance system easy to learn in small parts through activities and modules. It was a great experience being able to build relationships with community partners and work with my group to create a product that could benefit Medicare beneficiaries.”

Collectively, the students research produced powerpoint presentations, brochures and infographics that will help their focus communities and Hawaiʻi SHIP. The COVID-19 stay-at-home order prompted the teaching team to restructure the course for the remainder of the semester. Classes and meetings took place virtually, allowing the teaching team to provide extra support to the students.

“As co-instructor, it was extremely rewarding to see how much students have gained knowledge of Medicare and actualized their service-learning projects with community partners, which would not have been possible without support from Hawaiʻi SHIP partners Lani, Wanda, and Candace, and mentorships from SHIP volunteers,” said Seunghye Hong, UH Mānoa associate professor of social work.

“Even if insurance has never been an interest to you, I recommend taking this course, as the knowledge and skills you will walk away with can be applicable personally and professionally,” said Mortensen.

—By Sarah Hendrix