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Straight Talk for Seniors®: FY18 Budget Update & the Medicare SHIP Program

Now that Congress has returned from its August recess, attention is turning to the federal budget and the deadline to fund government programs past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Two critical programs for older adults are still at risk. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed eliminating the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) and cutting the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) by $100 million.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider its version of the bill funding these crucial programs this week.

With both the House and Senate in session together for only 12 days this month before the fiscal year ends, Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution to extend current funding levels through November or December.

But we still need your help to protect SHIP and SCSEP. Here are details on why SHIPs are worth saving.

What SHIPs do

SHIPs advise, educate, and empower individuals to navigate the increasingly complex Medicare program and help beneficiaries make choices among a vast array of options to best meet their needs.

Given the significant differences in premiums, cost sharing, provider networks, and coverage rules, SHIPs play a critical role in ensuring that these choices are well informed and thoughtful for each beneficiary served.

Fifty-four grantees—including every state, Puerto Rico, Guam, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—receive SHIP funding through the Administration for Community Living. SHIPs oversee a network of more than 3,300 local SHIP offices and over 15,000 counselors, 57% of whom are highly trained volunteers who donate almost 2 million hours of assistance annually.

Why SHIPs matter

Making informed decisions among an average of 20+ prescription drug plans and 19 Medicare Advantage plans, as well as various Medigap supplemental insurance policies, can save money and improve access to quality care.

In 2015, several states reported achieving significant savings to beneficiaries resulting from SHIP assistance, including $110 million in Massachusetts, $56 million in Michigan, and $53 million in North Carolina.

SHIPs offer increasingly critical services that cannot be supplied by 1-800 MEDICARE, online, or via written materials or other outreach activities. In fact, approximately one-third of all partner referrals to SHIPs originate from Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans, local and state agencies, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Social Security Administration, and members of Congress and their staff. These partners also include SHIP contact information in their websites, publications, and correspondence to beneficiaries as a trusted source of assistance where individuals can seek help with their Medicare questions.

SHIP funding

Last year, SHIP funding was cut from $52.1 to $47.1 million. If last year’s allocation had simply kept pace with inflation and the rapidly increasing number of Medicare beneficiaries since FY11, it would have reached $66.6 million for FY17.

Further cutting or eliminating the program would mean that Americans with Medicare would no longer have access to the only federal program that provides free, personalized, unbiased counseling on the growing complexities of Medicare coverage.

Learn how you can help educate Congress about SHIPs and check back to find out about specific steps you can take in the coming weeks.

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Howard Bedlin

About Howard Bedlin

Howard Bedlin is NCOA's Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy. He is responsible for all of NCOA’s federal and state legislative advocacy efforts on issues and programs of concern to older adults, which include the Older Americans Act, Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care, income security, and community services programs.