Tallmadge: Nancy Hunt took the first fitness class of her life at the age of 76. A year later, she’s going to the Tallmadge Recreation Center three times a week.
“I’m not so much of a couch potato now,” the Tallmadge woman said, pausing while 30 other seniors around her marched in place and twirled their arms to an instructor’s cadence.
Still, if her insurance provider didn’t pay for the workout, she probably wouldn’t be going, she admitted.
Hunt is one of a growing number of the 65-and-over set taking advantage of SilverSneakers, a national fitness program offered at 42 centers within a 20-mile radius of Akron, according to Silver Sneakers.com.
Increasingly, health-care providers are paying for the program because the benefits “are definable and measurable,” said David Cooper, director of the Tallmadge center, which began offering the program in 2010.
“What it does for people is amazing,” he said. His center has nearly 2,000 Silver Sneakers members.
“I’ve had people thank me personally and want to share their success stories. They’ll say, ‘I was walking with a cane and now I don’t need it’ or tell me how they don’t need their diabetes medicine anymore.”
Insurance providers in Ohio that pay for seniors to use the program are AARP MedicareComplete by UnitedHealthcare, AARP Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Health Advantra, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, Medi Gold, Paramount Elite, Summa Care, Universal Health Care and WellCare.
SummaCare’s Medicare supplement plan started covering SilverSneakers last year. This year, one in five eligible people is taking advantage of it, said Jim Loveless, vice president for Medicare and individual products at SummaCare.
“Every year we reach out to current members and prospective members and ask what they like and what needs changed,” he said. “One thing being asked for was a fitness benefit. That’s why we added it.”
Because it’s only the second year SummaCare has offered it, it’s too early to quantify the benefits, Loveless said, but “it is anticipated that there would be a reduction in our expenses in doing something like this because it is preventative care.”
In the meantime, SummaCare has been marketing the program to make sure its members are aware of it.
“We want everybody enrolled in the plan,” he said.
The program is no secret, said Margo Terry, a fitness instructor at Tallmadge.
“Seniors are the best word of mouth going on,” she said, noting that enrollment has “skyrocketed” since the center first became a provider.
There’s another benefit to the trend: Rec centers find another income source.
The city-owned Tallmadge facility gained $200,000 last year. The center gets $3.40 each time a member uses the service, up to 10 visits a month.
But at Tallmadge, members can go as often as they want for free, even beyond the 10 for which the city is reimbursed, Cooper said.
The center has a one-fifth of a mile track, and members have access to strength and cardio machines as well as 24 classes a week devoted to older adults.
Because the seniors use the facility during slower periods in the morning and early afternoon, the growth in attendance isn’t colliding with the typical busy after-school and after-work hours, Cooper said.
While the program means more money for the center’s coffers, it means less is coming out of Vittorio Quaranta’s wallet.
The 70-year-old Tallmadge man said he paid about $280 a year to use the center’s walking track and fitness equipment. Now his supplemental insurance through Anthem pays for it through SilverSneakers.
He had heart surgery four years ago, but the regular workout keeps him in shape to still be a soccer referee once a week.
“I feel better and I have more energy,” he said.
Added his wife, Rosemarie: “We’re making new friends, too.”
More information can be found at www.SilverSneakers.com.