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How SHIP (State Health Insurance) Programs Help You Make Medicare Choices

SHIP Counselors Can Help You Sort Through Your Options

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Updated February 19, 2013

SHIP, which stands for State Health Insurance Program, is a federally funded program that is provided by each state in the United States to help residents of those states manage their Medicare choices. If you are Medicare eligible and must choose among the many options available to you, then working with a SHIP counselor may be a great way to ensure you're making the best choice for you.

And the best part? That individual, focused on YOU assistance, is free.

Medicare can get terribly confusing. Each year during the Medicare Open Enrollment period (always held from October to December), all Americans age 65 and older, plus those who are younger and disabled and are eligible for Mediare, are asked to review their many Medicare options to make a selection for their payment coverage for the following year. Their selections include dozens of plans which all fit into categories like Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medigap Plans. They are a mix of both government and private, vary in pricing, vary in coverage by state, and have specific rules they must follow.

Then there is the junk mail that begins to arrive, either in your regular mailbox or your email box. Local health insurance agents hold seminars, inviting you to eat their food and chat about your needs. By the time you walk out the door, you've signed up for something you don't understand, and you begin to have questions about whether you've made the right choice.

Even the savviest of Seniors may have trouble making their way through the possibilities and the overwhelming amount of information - most of which is subjective and is only meant to sell you something. From the many "parts" of Medicare (A,B,C and D), to the various private offerings among Medicare Advantage Plans, to the additional variations and rules that Medigap plans must follow, it's a maze at best and impossible at worst to make the right choices unless you can make a real study of the options and compare them to your needs.

SHIP Programs to the Rescue

While each state runs its State Health Insurance Program slightly differently, they all fit certain criteria in order to benefit their residents the most:

  • They are focused on helping Medicare recipients choose the best plan for them - the one that meets their needs for specific types of diagnoses, or treatments, including the drugs they need.

  • They are able to weigh the cost of the plan against the needs of individuals, finding the best plan at the best price for that individual.

  • They are objective, meaning they won't steer anyone toward one plan, or one insurer, versus another.

  • In some states, SHIP counselors are volunteers who have gone through extensive training - usually fellow seniors who must make the same kinds of choices as the citizens they work with.


  • In all states, SHIP assistance is free for the asking.

SHIP programs aren't called SHIP in every state. They may have different names, even though they work the same way. For example, in New York SHIP is called HIICAP (Health Insurance Information Counseling Assistance Program). In Idaho it's called SHIBA (Senior Health INsurance Benefits Advisors.)

If you would like to contact the SHIP program in your state, you can find the information you need in three ways:

• Medicare lets you search for the contact you need through their website. The search is a bit confusing, so if you have trouble, follow these directions: Choose "specific organization," then choose SHIP, then your state, finally clicking on "Find Contacts for this Organization" at the bottom of the page.

• You can call Medicare and ask about how to contact your local SHIP counselor: 1-800-MEDICARE(1-800-633-4227)

• Do a web search for "SHIP program" and your state. Even if your state calls it something else, a search should produce the information you need.

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