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The President’s Budget Would Dramatically Cut Funding for Medicare Counseling

This week, the President sent a more detailed supplement to his 2017 budget to Congressional appropriators that proposes dramatic cuts to the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs). SHIPs provide one-on-one, in-person counseling to help people with Medicare understand their rights and navigate their coverage options. The President’s proposal would almost completely eliminate federal funding for this essential program.

SHIPs provide unbiased, free, and personalized local assistance to older adults, people with disabilities, and families facing complicated Medicare decisions. In 2015, SHIPs helped about 7 million people with Medicare sift through more than 20 prescription drug plans, 19 different choices of Medicare Advantage plans, and various Medigap supplemental insurance policies, all of which come with different premiums, provider networks, rules around coverage, and out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, SHIPs help beneficiaries resolve fraud and abuse issues, billing problems, appeals, and enrollment in low-income health assistance programs.

The President’s budget, released earlier this month, included a $12.6 billion cut to the Department of Health and Human Services, but it did not include specifics about how to achieve those and other savings. The recently released supplement fills in some of those gaps and eliminates funding for SHIP grants for local assistance, and recommends that older adults and people with disabilities instead “leverage alternative sources for Medicare beneficiaries to obtain access to reliable information to better understand and manage benefits (e.g., 1-800-Medicare).”

Unfortunately, contractor-administered services like 1-800-MEDICARE cannot replace the essential, localized one-on-one assistance provided by SHIPs. SHIPs are extremely efficient and volunteer driven, and SHIP grants are vital to ensure comprehensive counseling is available to people with Medicare and their families. Medicare Rights continues to oppose shortsighted cuts to SHIPs, like those included in the President’s budget supplement.

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