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Matter of miles makes a difference

By WES PLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003

Carl and Billie Entelmann live in Hernando County.

They've lived here for 25 years.

They vote in Hernando County.

They pay taxes in Hernando County.

But the federal government is convinced the Entelmanns, both 73, live farther south, in Pasco County. As a result, they have seen the cost of their medical insurance co-payments rise.

Last year, the WellCare Choice cards held by the Entelmanns showed they were on the Hernando County plan, with a $5 co-pay on prescriptions and $150 co-pay for hospital stays. Earlier this month, however, the new cards arrived showing they had been placed on the Pasco plan, with a $10 prescription co-pay and a $200 co-pay for hospital stays.

That jump matters a lot to senior citizens on fixed incomes.

They called WellCare, and a customer service representative didn't see a problem: The Entelmanns lived in Pasco County.

No, we don't, Carl Entelmann replied.

But the support person insisted that the Entelmanns did live in Pasco. After all, the federal government -- specifically the Social Security Administration -- said so.

It's the postal address. That's the real problem. See, the Entelmanns live on Oakfield Circle in Ridge Manor, but their ZIP code is 33523 -- that's Dade City, in Pasco County. They dwell in one of those twilight zone borderlands across counties where the postmaster in the neighboring county still clings to turf next door. Residents in the area known as Lutz in south-central Pasco sometimes run into similar problems because of their affiliation with Hillsborough County.

FedEx drivers trying to deliver packages to the Entelmanns have roamed the antique shop-lined streets of Dade City hunting for their house. Same thing happened to a man they called to repair their spa.

They don't live in Dade City. They don't live in Pasco County.

They've never lived in Pasco.

They live in Ridge Manor, in Hernando County. Specifically, they live in River Heights Estates, east of Interstate 75, south of State Road 50, but safely north of the Hernando-Pasco county line. The only way they could live in Pasco would be for a cataclysmic earthquake along a nonexistent north-south fault line to slide them a couple miles south. If that happened, confused pizza drivers and lost couriers would be the least of anyone's problems.

So, the Entelmanns took the next step: contacting the helpful federal government.

They drove to the Social Security office in Dade City. That's Dade City in Pasco, not the postal-designated Dade City in Hernando, which is actually Ridge Manor.

Carl Entelmann showed a clerk his property tax records, homestead exemption receipt, copies of past WellCare cards, all showing his rightful place as a resident dwelling in Hernando County. He even showed them a map from the phone book, showing his area in Hernando.

"That didn't mean anything to them," Mr. Entelmann said. "They said, "Our computer says you live in Pasco County.' They had the proof right there, and they didn't accept it. They said they can't change the computer. What can we do?"

I got in touch with Jeff Tucker, a media consultant for WellCare. He made some inquiries and found that the company relies on information from the federal government to determine where plan members live, but WellCare has dealt with similar geographic mix up problems before.

"There is some recourse," Tucker said. "WellCare will be in touch with this member. If they can prove they pay taxes in Hernando or vote in Hernando, the center for Medicare/Medicaid can change their county designation."

I'll happily vouch for the Entelmanns. Property records show that in the year 2002, they paid $1,081.92 in taxes on their property in River Heights Estates.

Those are Hernando County property records.

I ran a check on Pasco County property records: Not one Entelmann listed.

-- Wes Platt is the assistant editor of the Hernando Times. He can be reached at (352) 754-6113 or via e-mail at platt@sptimes.com. Discuss this and other issues in our Web forums at www.sptimes.com/hernandoforum.

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