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YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties looks to cut ties with SilverSneakers

Cynthia Endicott, of Steilacoom, right, teaches yoga to Linda Bentley, left, and others in her SilverSneakers-Flex class at the Roy H. Murphy Community Center in Fircrest this spring. The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties announced it will discontinue its contract with SilverSneakers in 2017, but other private and public health care facilities will still offer SilverSneakers classes around the county.
Cynthia Endicott, of Steilacoom, right, teaches yoga to Linda Bentley, left, and others in her SilverSneakers-Flex class at the Roy H. Murphy Community Center in Fircrest this spring. The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties announced it will discontinue its contract with SilverSneakers in 2017, but other private and public health care facilities will still offer SilverSneakers classes around the county. dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

SilverSneakers, a national senior fitness program that gives its members access to 13,000 gyms across the country, will not be offered at the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties in 2017.

The news comes as open enrollment for Medicare and supplemental insurance plans that offer SilverSneakers nears a Dec. 7 deadline.

There are nearly 6,500 SilverSneakers members who use one of the Y’s seven Pierce County locations.

The YMCA decided not to renew its 10-year contract with SilverSneakers after learning changes to the program in 2017 would exclude non-SilverSneakers members from classes, said Michelle LaRue, vice president and chief member experience officer at the Y.

Currently, any Y member can attend SilverSneakers classes at the Y regardless of age or SilverSneakers status, she said.

“We want equal access,” LaRue said.

Cindy Wakefield, vice president of corporate communications for SilverSneakers, said the organization suggested to Y officials that in 2017 it could charge a “small fee, at their discretion” for non-SilverSneakers members to attend its classes.

The reason for the fee is to guarantee SilverSneakers members have access to popular classes that fill up quickly, Wakefield said in an emailed statement.

“This was a suggestion and not a mandate,” Wakefield said.

SilverSneakers is a nationwide exercise program designed for older adults that combines fitness and social activities. Some Medicare supplemental insurance plans offer a SilverSneakers membership, which allows its users free access to more than 13,000 fitness and wellness facilities nationwide, including the Y in Pierce and Kitsap.

Other public and private fitness facilities in Pierce County partner with SilverSneakers, including Metro Parks Tacoma, which offers SilverSneakers at its three fitness centers: People’s Center, STAR Center and the Center at Norpoint.

Regardless of the health insurance industry, we want to make sure that active older adults have access to our facilities.

Michelle LaRue, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties vice president and chief member experience officer

Here’s how it works:

An eligible member can go to a facility like the Y and register as a member through SilverSneakers. The person fills out the same membership application and receives a membership card just like other members, but doesn’t pay a monthly membership fee.

Instead the person’s health insurance is billed by SilverSneakers.

On Friday, a SilverSneakers spokeswoman said it might yet reach a compromise with the Y. Top leaders from both organizations met Friday and “were prepared to meet through the weekend” to discuss the situation, said spokeswoman Margie Wojciechowski.

Leaders at the Y were less hopeful. Spokeswoman Alex Abplanalp confirmed a “30-minute meeting” happened Friday, but the Y’s position hadn’t changed.

News that some private health insurance companies were dropping SilverSneakers also factored in the Y’s decision to discontinue its contract.

“Regardless of the health insurance industry, we want to make sure that active older adults have access to our facilities,” LaRue said.

SilverSneakers members who want to continue with programs at the Y in 2017 will either have to join the Y and pay its membership fee or find a supplemental insurance plan that offers similar access to the Y’s facilities before the Dec. 7 deadline.

The Y is offering a discounted membership for three years to its SilverSneakers members who enroll by Dec. 31. The rate is $44 a month, which is $15 cheaper than its 2017 adult monthly rate.

The discounted rate is good through December 2019, LaRue said.

The Y will continue to offer many of the SilverSneakers classes in 2017, just under a different name, she said. Instructors for the classes are Y employees, so there should be minimal difference in programming.

The Y accepts other wellness plans that grant seniors access similar to SilverSneakers, according to LaRue. She didn’t want to name the plans, saying it is not the Y’s position to recommend private insurance to its members.

People thinking about changing their supplemental insurance to keep the free access to the Y “need to weigh the options and the costs” before making a decision, said Donna Wells, spokeswoman from the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

Wells, who works with the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors program, urged people with questions to call the unbiased, free service to compare their current plan against other options. The local SHIBA office can be reached at 253-596-0918.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley

More information

on discontinuation of SilverSneakers membership at the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties visit: https://www.ymcapkc.org/join/membership-types/silversneakers/

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