Health Insurance Assistance

More than 61 million Americans are enrolled in the Medicare program, including more than 52 million Americans age 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 2019 survey conducted by USAging and Anthem found that 59 percent of older Americans find it difficult to navigate the health care system including understanding bills and benefits, diagnosis and treatment options, and communicating with their health care provider. 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 state insurance commission. At the local level, most especially in states where the program starts at the State Unit on Aging, a majority (62 percent) of Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) serve as the local SHIP.  The federal SHIP is administered by the U.S. Administration for Community Living.

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 their 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 that 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.

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USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2021 winners.