Health Insurance Assistance

More than 58 million Americans are enrolled in the Medicare program, 49 million of those aged age 65 or older. Despite both its popularity and reach, the Medicare program is complex and a source of confusion for many people.

In fact, a recent survey found that most current beneficiaries could not correctly identify the health care expenses covered by Medicare Parts A, B, C and D. The information gap was even wider for boomer respondents, with 70 percent describing their understanding of Medicare as “fair” or “poor;” more than half said they “wouldn’t know where to begin” to transition from employer-sponsored health insurance to Medicare. With baby boomers turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 people every day, the need for accurate, unbiased information about this vital benefit has never been more crucial.

One of the ways the federal government helps consumers make decisions about their own Medicare coverage is through the funding of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Each state operates a statewide SHIP program, usually run by the state unit on aging or the insurance commission. At the local level, most especially in states where the program starts at the state unit, a majority of AAAs (60 percent) serve as the local SHIP. In 2014, the federal SHIP program authority moved from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to the Administration for Community Living (ACL).

SHIP counselors and volunteers interact directly with clients to offer one-on-one counseling and assistance via telephone and face-to-face interactive sessions, public education presentations and programs, and media activities. For example, a SHIP counselor may help a client figure out which Medicare Part D prescription drug plan makes the most sense for her particular circumstances. This direct health insurance counseling empowers older adults to make informed benefit decisions that will strengthen their ability to live healthy and independent lives.

AAAs, even those who do not operate the local SHIP program, conduct proactive outreach to their communities by inviting prospective and existing Medicare beneficiaries to attend classes and other public education events that cover all the bases—from the basic benefits to other insurance options.