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For John McDonough, saving 'a lot of people a lot of money' beats twiddling his thumbs

Bob Ocken, left, and John McDonough, both Medicare counselors with SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) visit before meeting with clients at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s. McDonough was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame earlier this year for his 24 years of service. James Q. Lynch/The Gazette
Bob Ocken, left, and John McDonough, both Medicare counselors with SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) visit before meeting with clients at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s. McDonough was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame earlier this year for his 24 years of service. James Q. Lynch/The Gazette
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When he retired from his job as an engineering manager at Rockwell Collins back in 1992, John McDonough decided he didn’t want “to sit home doing nothing.”

So even before he left his job, McDonough began volunteering with RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program). He thought it might give him something to do on a weekly basis.

By 1995 McDonough had decided he needed more, so he went to work as a volunteer counselor with SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s. SHIIP provides free, confidential and objective counseling to Medicare patients and caregivers about Medicare, Medicare prescription drug plans, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medicare supplement plans, billings and claims issues and long-term care insurance.

He received two weeks of training on how to help people with their Medicare paperwork and, 24 years later, he’s still going strong. So far, according to Angela Berns, program manager of volunteer services at the Cedar Rapids hospital, McDonough has donated 7,208 hours to SHIIP. McDonough, 84, doesn’t have any plans to stop.

“I’ll continue until I can’t do it anymore,” McDonough says from behind his desk in the SHIIP office at St. Luke’s. “I like it and it beats sitting home twiddling my thumbs — even though I do plenty of that.”

McDonough joined Rockwell — Collins Radio then — in 1957 as a draftsman and then worked a mechanical engineer.

“I always enjoyed interfacing with people ... and there’s a bunch of good people to work with here,” McDonough said.

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He’s one of 16 SHIIP counselors who “take care of any and all complaints” relating to Medicare, McDonough said about the job.

“I answer as many questions as I can and if I can’t, I know where to go to get an answer,” he said.

He doesn’t know how many people he’s helped, but Berns said that in the past five years McDonough has had 1,335 client appointments and saved those people nearly $703,000 on their prescription drugs.

He recalled sorting out one woman’s Medicare paperwork to save her $11,000.

Sometimes his efforts are personal. He wrote an appeal for his wife, Edna, who was in a care center.

“It was turned down twice. The third time it was approved and saved $15,000,” he said.

He’s gone to bat for clients with Medicare billing issues so many times “nothing scares me.”

“I’ve saved a lot of people a lot of money,” he said with a smile.

McDonough encourages people on Medicare to talk to a SHIIP counselor at least once a year to make sure they are current with changes. He also advises people to participate in St. Luke’s monthly Medicare seminar for people entering the program.

For his efforts with SHIIP, McDonough was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame earlier this year during a ceremony at the Capitol with Gov. Kim Reynolds. He’s also been recognized by the Freedom Festival’s Tribute to Heroes.

RSVP and SHIIP are not his first volunteer efforts. McDonough, a father of four, was a Boy Scout leader, has served on several nonprofit boards and helped found the Wheelchair Ramp Accessibility Program and Rockwell Collins Retiree Volunteers.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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