Navigating Your Medicare Through SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program)
Health insurance is relevant for everyone, especially for seniors who may require advanced and essential healthcare services. There is Medicare with its coverage for hospital stays, preventive services, and prescription drugs. And there’s one program that helps older Americans and other beneficiaries navigate and explore Medicare for better outcomes: SHIP.
SHIP or State Health Insurance Assistance Program operates throughout the U.S. and its major territories. SHIPs offer counseling for Medicare enrollees, their loved ones, and caregivers free of charge.
How important is your SHIP and how to contact one? Let’s find out below.
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What SHIP Does
SHIPs provide one-on-one help assistance to Medicare beneficiaries via a help desk 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), online, email, or in person.
These programs operate in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.
The main SHIP is a network of approximately 3,300 local SHIP programs with more than 15,000 counselors, according to the Administration for Community Living (ACL).
Through SHIPs, Americans aged 65 and older, young people with disabilities, and people with permanent kidney failure get access to free information, counseling, and enrollment assistance with their Medicare plans.
Medicare can be complex to understand so beneficiaries can speak with trained and qualified SHIP counselors about:
- how it works,
- how it works with other insurance programs,
- the program’s benefits,
- Medicare health plan enrollment,
- main coverage (Is it Medicare Part A – Hospital Insurance, B – Medical Insurance, C – Medicare Advantage Plans, or D – Prescription Drug Coverage?),
- supplemental coverage options,
- other insurance programs like Medicaid, which is health insurance designed for people with low income, and
- Other issues and queries.
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Families and caregivers of Medicare beneficiaries also have access to free personalized counseling via SHIPs.
In 2016, more than 6.2 million individuals received SHIP assistance from 14,000 counselors according to Senator Bob Casey, a ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Save Our Ship?
The Department of Health and Human Services funds SHIPs through grants given to each state. In its budget for the fiscal year 2018, the Department proposes to cut discretionary funding for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program.
According to Sen. Casey, the move threatens the existence of SHIPs in providing free and unbiased counseling to Medicare beneficiaries, as well as disseminating information and education in communities.
There are about 55 million individuals including seniors who are currently enrolled in Medicare per Sen. Casey.
The Department clarifies that online tools and helpline will still be retained and accessible by beneficiaries. Some state governments will also support their respective SHIP programs.
Otherwise, the Department is reducing the budget for SHIPs by $52 million. It will, however, retain funding of $12 million for seniors who have low income and those living in rural areas.
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Last October, the Senate passed the FY 2018 budget, which is awaiting final enactment.
Meanwhile, you can find relevant contact information about your State Insurance Assistance Program (Senior Health Insurance Program/Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program in some states).
Contact 1-800-MEDICARE for more details.
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