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One-on-One Medicare Counseling Program Safe in the Senate

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This week, future funding for State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) is once again at stake. SHIPs provide unique one-on-one, in-person counseling to help people with Medicare understand their rights and navigate their coverage options. Despite their high value and low cost, SHIPs have been under threat for the past several years, but have survived through a combination of strong advocacy and diverse Congressional support.

SHIPs are valuable because they provide unbiased, free, and personalized local assistance to older adults, people with disabilities, and families facing complicated Medicare decisions. In 2015, for example, SHIPs helped millions of 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, rules around coverage and provider access, and out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, SHIPs help people with Medicare resolve fraud and abuse issues, billing problems, appeals, and enrollment in low-income health assistance programs.

In March, the White House proposed eliminating federal funding for the SHIPs. While such requests are not laws, they can serve as insight into the policies and priorities of an administration. The House Appropriations Committee followed the White House’s lead and also eliminated federal funding for the SHIP program.

This moved the focus to the Senate. Thankfully, the Senate Appropriations Committee went another direction and has proposed that SHIPs receive the same funding as last year. Medicare Rights is grateful to the Committee members for supporting the continued funding of this important program.

The House and the Senate will have to come to an agreement over what funding the SHIPs should receive. As in past years, many advocates are reaching out to both houses of Congress to educate members on the importance and value of SHIPs for their constituents, and many members, both Democrats and Republicans, have spoken out about the need to preserve the program.

Medicare Rights supports SHIPs and continues to advocate against any cuts to the program. Services to aid people with Medicare in getting the help they need and the coverage that is best for their individual circumstances is ever more vital. There is reason to be hopeful that the threat to the SHIP funding can be averted again, but we must remain vigilant to protect this irreplaceable resource.

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