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SJMC award used to help Medicare beneficiaries

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The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services awarded the School of Journalism and Mass Communication a $448,800 grant for research.

The money will be used to research means of increasing health care accessibility for low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

The examiners are charged with collecting data on rural, elderly and low-income individuals to help develop strategies that best improve accessibility of Medicare services for these subjects.

Judy Oskam, professor and director of SJMC and principal investigator of the project, said SJMC officials heard that D.A.D.S. was looking for an organization in the Central Texas area to conduct this research.

Researchers in the school were invited to write a proposal to receive the grant in May and were awarded the money at the end of July, she said.

Oskam said she is leading a team of focus groups comprised of graduate students and faculty members who are experts in media, adult education, social work and geography.

The goal is to deliver recommendations that will help D.A.D.S.’ public outreach in a statewide media campaign intended to help elderly citizens become more educated about the benefits they may obtain through Medicare, she said.

“SJMC is playing an important role in assisting the state of Texas and Medicare recipients,” Oskam said.

She said SJMC researchers have found that people in rural areas do not tend to connect with their communities through traditional media. Getting Internet access can be difficult due to location or finances, so the beneficiaries often use radio or newspaper to stay connected.

“In a lot of communities, it’s the caregivers like relatives or children who pass on the information to the individuals who can receive Medicare,” Oskam said.

“Those caregivers are really important,” said Kelly Kaufhold, research director of the project. “People who don’t have somebody like that in their lives are at a disadvantage. It’s more difficult for them for find out about (Medicare benefits) and sign up.”

Dan Seed, Texas State grant coordinator, said the university was invited to do “a meaningful project like this” because SJMC officials are confident in their researchers.

“I’m happy Texas State has this opportunity to benefit not only our program, but potentially all of Texas,” Seed said.

Kaufhold said focus groups are analyzing media trends and outreach strategies such as interviews, surveys and public events that have been hosted across Texas.

The research team has been distributing surveys that ask elderly people how they receive health care information, how they prefer to get it, how supportive health care offices are and their opinions on Medicare, he said.

Kaufhold and his team will distribute these surveys to 1,000 people between the ages of 55 and 65 this month. From the information gathered, researchers will try to identify the best methods to increase the accessibility of Medicare information for older, low-income citizens.

“What we’re looking for is a big package that we can make available to people all around the state,” Kaufhold said. “What we’re finding is that not everyone who can sign up (for Medicare benefits) is signing up and that’s what this grant is about.”

It is “a bit odd” for SJMC to conduct a research project associated with health information issues, Kaufhold said. The grant provides a “great opportunity” for Texas State to be recognized as an emerging national research university.

“The cliché is that we’re ‘the rising star of Texas,’ and it is absolutely true,” Kaufhold said.