YMCA discontinues senior program
January 2, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
The approximately 600 seniors who enjoy use of the Coal Creek Family YMCA through their SilverSneakers insurance benefit must purchase a direct-pay Y membership to continue using the facility beginning this month.
In a November letter to SilverSneakers participants, the YMCA announced it would no longer contract with the senior program, which provides fitness center memberships to Medicare-eligible users through their health care plans.
“We evaluated our agreements with the health plans and then realized that the current agreement wasn’t sustainable from a business perspective,” said Sara Biancofiori, the Coal Creek Family YMCA’s associate executive director.
SilverSneakers members previously received use of the YMCA and its senior programs as a benefit paid through their regular insurance costs. Participants will now have to pay the YMCA directly to use the facility.
The senior program offerings, classes and the YMCA’s commitment to them will not change through the transition, Biancofiori said, but users might have to pay anywhere from $25 to $57 a month to become Y members.
Classes formerly labeled as SilverSneakers programs will still be available, she stressed, but they won’t be called SilverSneakers classes.
“It’s really about the business side of it,” she said. “We’re still serving them. We’re still offering programs. They’re going to become Y members versus membership through the SilverSneakers program, and there’s a cost change in that.”
The price is flexible, though, with the option of financial assistance, if needed, she added.
SilverSneakers users should go to the Coal Creek Family YMCA facility to speak with a membership representative that will help them establish a pricing plan based on what they feel comfortable paying financially, Biancofiori said.
“We will come up with a way to have them be a member. We won’t turn anyone away. Our intent is not to have money be a barrier,” she said.
The unexpected cost is a burden to seniors who don’t have the benefit of a Newcastle senior center, or a regular source of income, said Councilman Bill Erxleben, who brought the issue up at a recent City Council meeting.
“It’s not chicken change for people who are retired and living on fixed incomes,” he said.
Erxleben and his wife Gayle are SilverSneakers members, and are currently debating whether to continue at the YMCA or find another fitness facility, he said.
Local options such as the 24 Hour Fitness facilities in Issaquah and Renton will continue to offer the SilverSneakers program, but don’t offer the classes or community that the Coal Creek Family YMCA does, he said.
“It’s not that the Y doesn’t care about seniors,” he said, “they just care a little less than they have in the past.”
The initial correspondence between the YMCA and its SilverSneakers members about the change was not handled particularly well, Erxleben said.
Biancofiori did admit that separate letters from the YMCA and Healthways, which manages the SilverSneakers program, caused some confusion among customers.
“Sometimes the letters are hard to understand, so there were some confusing aspects,” she said.
Of the 600 SilverSneakers participants at the Coal Creek Family YMCA, about 350 are active users, Biancofiori said.
As of mid-December, she estimated that 115 people had converted to the YMCA membership.
“Hopefully, more will come do that,” she said. “We want them to be a part of our community.”