What are 'State Health Insurance Assistance Programs - SHIP'

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) offer free individual insurance counseling at the local level for those on Medicare, as well as their families, friends and caregivers. SHIPs are funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and they are prevalent in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

BREAKING DOWN 'State Health Insurance Assistance Programs - SHIP'

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs counselors explain how Medicare works to beneficiaries, including how to take advantage of its benefits and what sorts of fees and deductibles to expect. They also assist people with claims and appeals on their insurance or any other issues the person might have. SHIPs also provide information on additional options open to Medicare beneficiaries, including variations on their traditional plans and joining a Medicare Advantage Plan.

A person is eligible for Medicare if he or she meets any of the following qualifications:

  • Is 65 or older and has been a citizen or legal resident of the United States for at least five years
  • Is disabled and has collected Social Security for at least two years
  • Is undergoing treatment for kidney failure or is in need of a kidney transplant
  • Has Lou Gehrig's disease

There are many branches of Medicare with varying benefits, so SHIPs help people find the best option. For example, Medicare Advantage plans, provided by private companies rather than the government, don't include hospice care. Medicare pays the premiums for this plan, but a person in need of hospice care would not be eligible.

How Do SHIPs Help Medicare Beneficiaries?

The goal of SHIP is to train and counsel Medicare beneficiaries so they have the information they need to make smart health insurance decisions. Many SHIP counselors are actually certified volunteers versed in the intricacies of Medicare. SHIPs get the word out to Medicare recipients in local communities through presentations and distributed information.

SHIPs work directly with people on Medicare on the local level to help them understand how to get coverage and find the right option for their specific situation. These options include the original Medicare, Medicare Part C or Part D, and options for low-income beneficiaries including the Medicare Savings Program, the Low Income Subsidy and Medicaid. SHIPs assist people with navigating these options and answering questions about how Medicare interacts with other services (such as retiree insurance plans). They also refer people to the correct office if they need further assistance or further details on a specific aspect of service.

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