Medicare Advocates Don’t Want SHIPs to Sail Away


Millions of beneficiaries may have to look harder for help with Medicare enrollment or a billing problem if Congress adopts a little noticed item in the White House's proposed fiscal 2018 budget.

The budget released May 23 didn’t tinker much with Medicare provisions and funding, compared with other health programs like Medicaid.

But it did contain a relatively small—$52 million—cut in money for states and territories to use to counsel beneficiaries on their Medicare options and problems, such as appeals or bills.

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program provides the one-year grants.

However, SHIP money would be axed next year under the administration’s proposed budget.

Beneficiaries can find alternative sources “to obtain access to reliable information to better understand and manage benefits,” the budget said.

That didn’t sit right with one beneficiary advocacy group.

The Medicare Rights Center urged Congress to reject zeroing out the SHIP program.

“This seemingly minor, pernicious cut strikes at the heart of the program, leaving people who need help understanding their Medicare with nowhere to turn,” the center said. SHIP funded counselors help people choose how to receive their benefits, manage denials and appeals, and solve billing disputes, the center said.

Medicare’s toll free hotline and the website are no substitute for “intensive, personalized” 50-minute sessions, Stacy Sanders, federal policy director for the center, told me.

They don’t provide individualized counseling and the customer service rep is not going to “help you understand why you’ve been billed” for example, she said.

SHIP, however, has its friends in Congress.

One supporter, Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, is gathering signatures from his fellow senators for a letter asking the Appropriations Committee for the $52 million, his spokeswoman told me the day the budget came out.

Read our full article by my colleague Alex Ruoff, with assistance from Sara Hansard and me, here.

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