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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Monday, August 31, 2015

Stay the Course with SHIP

State budget cuts are not the only threat to seniors and people with disabilities. Federal reductions may be coming as well.

The US Senate is considering a 42% reduction in funding to the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which counsels seniors and people with disabilities on their Medicare health plan options. SHIP funding would drop to a mere $20 million, diminishing the numbers and quality of the SHIP workforce.

SHIP is Necessary Now More than Ever

Every day, 10,000 Americans become eligible for a Medicare system that is increasingly more complex. Medicare beneficiaries pay the price for the confusion:
  • 700,000 Medicare are paying the Part B Late Enrollment Penalty because they missed the deadline to sign up,
  • Medicare Part D beneficiaries in Low-Income Subsidy are often unaware of lower priced options,
SHIP counselors are trained to sort through the mess of enrollment rules and multitude of health plan options. The Illinois program includes 600 SHIP counselors located across the State. These counselors provide free, unbiased counseling on Medicare, Medicare supplemental policies, Medicare managed care and long-term care insurance. Seniors can turn to SHIP counselors for assistance with fraud and abuse issues, billing problems and filing appeals. Annually, the Illinois SHIP creates a comparison guide for all Medicare supplemental policies, a vital resource to figure out the alphabet soup of options.

Poorer Trained, Less Helpful

The federal cuts would compromise SHIP's ability to adequately serve everyone who needs help. One and a half million fewer people would receive assistance. Moreover, most of the SHIP counselors are volunteers who donate almost two million hours of help. Cuts could also result in reduced or compromised volunteer training, which increases the risk of erroneous advice and reduces the quality of services beneficiaries receive.

No Substitute

Those in favor of the cuts claim there are less costly alternatives to SHIP. This is untrue. The materials suggested as substitutes, 1-800 Medicare, Medicare.gov and the Medicare Enrollment Handbook, all list SHIP as a resource for people to use with additional questions. A brochure is no substitute for one-on-one, expert advice.

What You Can Do

Tell your Senator to fight cuts to the SHIP program, that your family, friends, even you personally, benefit from the free services that SHIP counselors provide. It's easy:
  • Send our Senators this model letter drafted by the National Council on Aging. Just copy and paste the text into their contact forms:  Sen. Kirk's form  Sen. Durbin's form (remember to sign your name!)
  • Tweet your advocacy with this graphic we created – and tag @SenatorKirk @SenatorDurbin
  • Feel free to personalize with your story, or the story of loved ones. Personal stories make a difference!
Go ahead, spread the word, fight the cuts. And as you do, share your efforts with Illinois Health Matters!

Bryce Marable MSW
Health Policy Analyst
Health & Disability Advocates

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Patchwork of Short-Sighted Solutions Leave the State's Most Vulnerable at Risk

The following letter to the editor originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

The expectation that Medicaid-funded long-term care providers will continue to provide care to low-income and vulnerable citizens without payment for those services is short-sighted and doesn’t fully consider the strains that it places on them - and the direct care staff who provide the hands-on care to elders and people with disabilities.

For providers that can keep their doors open without Medicaid funding, it may mean cutting costs by laying-off staff, leaving the remaining nursing assistants to work longer shifts at the nursing home. Or, it may result in a consumer getting care from a new home care aide when her regular aide – who knew her schedule and needs – had to quit after losing her day care subsidy – another casualty of Gov. Rauner’s and the legislature’s inability to act and pass a budget.

For those providers that cannot keep their doors open without Medicaid payment, where are the people who relied on them for housing, for a meal, for a bath, or transportation to a medical appointment supposed to turn for care?  In many instances the home care aide is the professional who checks in to make sure that her client is well, taking her medication, and isn’t at risk for injury.  And for those receiving care in a nursing home, there is often not another option for them to receive 24-hour care.

These are realities that lawmakers are not taking into consideration as the budget impasse lingers on without a solution in sight. While ensuring that Medicaid providers in Cook County who serve children continue getting paid was a great solution, none seems to be in sight for the thousands statewide who rely on Medicaid services for care in nursing homes or to live safely and with dignity in their communities.

A patchwork of short-sighted solutions will only leave the state’s most vulnerable at risk.  It is time to pass a budget with sufficient revenue to fund the services that seniors and people with disabilities rely on and to stabilize the long-term care employers and workers who provide the services.

Tameshia Bridges Mansfield
Midwest Director
Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute