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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


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