Senior citizens who enjoy the Silver Sneakers program at Wilton’s Riverbrook Regional Y may get an unwanted New Year’s surprise on Jan. 1.

United Healthcare, the nation’s largest health insurance carrier, recently announced that as of Jan. 1, the company is dropping Silver Sneakers — an optional benefit — for 1.2 million customers with Medicare Advantage plans in 11 states, including Connecticut, according to a report by the Connecticut Mirror. The benefit is also being dropped for 1.3 million customers with Medicare supplemental (Medigap) insurance.

Silver Sneakers, a program offered by the Wilton Y, provides activities and programs for older adults in order to help them maintain greater control of their health.

The Silver Sneakers program is available around the country, and membership provides access to any participating gym location — including all amenities included with basic level access. Each location is outfitted with an adviser as well as health education seminars and other fitness-related events.

Despite funding cuts proposed by United Healthcare, the Silver Sneakers program will continue to run at the Wilton Y. “Nothing has changed,” said Mary Ann Genuario, health and fitness director at the Y.

“It’s business as usual. We are still a Silver Sneakers facility and we are not discontinuing it,” Genuario said.

But while running the Silver Sneakers program may not be an issue for the Wilton Y, seniors who rely on United Healthcare may find their Silver Sneakers benefit has been cut.

About 1,000 seniors are enrolled in the Silver Sneakers program at the Wilton Y, according to membership director Michelle Wishna.

She said the Y does not know how many seniors will be affected on Jan., 1 because not all seniors have United Healthcare, and not everyone enrolled in the Silver Sneakers program uses the Y facility.


Alternative


In lieu of giving seniors a benefit for Silver Sneakers, United Healthcare instead will offer members a package of fitness and wellness benefits — a move that will give the company more control over its benefits and may save it money, according to the Mirror report.

Seniors with United Healthcare Medicare supplemental policies will get 50% off memberships at thousands of gyms across the country, telephone access to wellness coaches and access to various online communities and health-related resources.

Those with Medicare Advantage policies can join Renew Active, United Healthcare’s fitness program, with a network of more than 7,000 sites, at no cost, and qualify for an evaluation from a personal trainer and an online brain-training program, among other services, according to the Mirror.