Federal funding for a program that provides free health plan counseling for Medicare recipients would be nearly eliminated under a supplemental budget put forward by the Trump Administration, according to information provided by the National Council on Aging.
The proposal would eliminate all federal grants for states that operate the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). The President’s FFY 17 budget reduces SHIP funding from $52 million nationally to $3 million. In a budget note, the President’s budget states that ending the program will “leverage alternative sources for Medicare beneficiaries to obtain access to reliable information to better understand and manage benefits (e.g. 1-800 Medicare.)”
Al Norman is Executive Director of Mass Home Care, a statewide network of agencies that help keep elders living at home. He anticipates those cuts would have a dramatic impact on the level of service for Medicare recipients.
“The idea that seniors would be given an “800” number to call instead of a trained local health counselor is like being bumped from a first-class flight to the baggage department,” said Norman. “Medicare can’t sit down with you face-to-face and go over your options.”
The program is called SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders) in Massachusetts, where it served 76,409 consumers in 2015. Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) provides SHINE counseling through its agency Aging Information Center.
SHINE provides free health insurance information, counseling, and assistance to Massachusetts residents with Medicare and their caregivers. It counsels seniors on Medicare, Medicaid, Prescription Advantage, Senior Care Options, One Care, PACE, Health Safety Net, and other insurance options. Norman described the program as a trustworthy resource that provides vital information.
“I refer my friends to this program all the time,” Norman said. “It provides the best, unbiased health insurance counseling in the state, and saves Medicare thousands of hours on the phone with upset consumers. Many seniors rely on SHINE to help them navigate complex eligibility requirements to choose the public or private insurance benefits that best help them meet their needs and their budget.”
SHINE counseling is provided by hundreds of volunteers across the Commonwealth, or agency staff, who are trained and certified by the state in health insurance plans, including Medicare Part A, Part B, and Part D; Medigap insurance, Medicare HMOs, retiree insurance plans, prescription drug programs, Medicaid, Medicare assistance programs (QMB, SLMB and QI), and other programs for people with limited resources.
For more information about federal budget proposals impacting services for older adults, visit the National Council on Aging website. For more information about Mass Home Care, visit MassHomeCare.org.
Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services is a private, non-profit agency dedicated to improving the quality of life and maintaining the dignity and independence of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information about the SCES SHINE program and other resources, call 617-628-2601, or visit eldercare.org.