MURPHY LEADS EFFORT TO FUND CRITICAL MEDICARE PROGRAM

Insurance Assisters Provide Over 13,800 Hours Counseling for Connecticut Residents, Critical Resource for Seniors and People with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees, led 23 U.S. Senators in requesting at least $70 million for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). In a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Senators asked specifically that this critical funding be included in the appropriations bill and emphasized that SHIPs—which provide free help to Medicare beneficiaries who have questions or concerns about their health insurance—are an integral resource for seniors and people with disabilities. 

CHOICES—the Connecticut SHIP program—last year provided 13,800 hours of counseling to help people with disabilities, and family caregivers find the health care program that works for them and their families. Connecticut received $481,000 in federal funding last year through the SHIP program. There are five regional offices that administer the program. 

“We urge you to include at least $70 million for the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). This funding will allow SHIPs to continue their role as a source of independent advice for seniors, people with disabilities, and their families to choose Medicare plans that work best for them,” the members wrote. “SHIPs operate in every state, territory, and the District of Columbia with over 3,000 local offices. They provide enrollment clinics, ‘Welcome to Medicare’ events, information seminars, and one-on-one counseling that helps seniors and people with disabilities get the most out of their Medicare benefits. As the number of new Medicare eligible individuals continues to grow, so will the demand and the complexity of the system.” 

“Medicare is increasingly complex, and SHIPs provide the kind of local, in-depth counseling and assistance that Medicare beneficiaries need to make the best choices for their situation. We applaud Sen. Murphy for once again mobilizing support among his colleagues for the annual SHIP appropriation, and for calling for at least $70 million to ensure the program keeps pace with inflation and the 10,000 Americans who become eligible for Medicare every day,” said Howard Bedlin, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy at the National Council on Aging. 

U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) joined Murphy in sending this letter. 

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray: 

As you work on the fiscal year (FY) 2020 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, we urge you to include at least $70 million for the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). This funding will allow SHIPs to continue their role as a source of independent advice for seniors, people with disabilities, and their families to choose Medicare plans that work best for them. Even maintaining level funding at a time when the number of older Americans is growing by 10,000 a day means that SHIP would be limited in ability to meet ongoing needs. 

SHIPs operate in every state, territory, and the District of Columbia with over 3,000 local offices. They provide enrollment clinics, “Welcome to Medicare” events, information seminars, and one-on-one counseling that helps seniors and people with disabilities get the most out of their Medicare benefits. As the number of new Medicare eligible individuals continues to grow, so will the demand and the complexity of the system. SHIPs also provide assistance to individuals who need it the most, such as beneficiaries with reduced cognitive ability – a number that is expected to grow as the Medicare population ages. The personalized counseling that SHIPs provide cannot be replicated by reading information online or in print, as evidenced by the number of referrals to SHIP counselors from federal agencies like CMS which oversees Medicare. 

SHIPs provide older Americans, people with disabilities, and their families with unbiased, cost-free, and personalized advice to help them navigate Medicare enrollment and obtain benefits. People on Medicare can choose among plan options each year that may look similar but whose differences could have significant impacts on cost-sharing and network access. For example, if beneficiaries chose the least expensive Part D plan in their region, they could save an average of $368 per year. However, most beneficiaries are not well-informed, as illustrated by the number of calls, letters, or emails to Senate offices from constituents about Part D plans, reporting fraud, or getting financial help. Without the independent counseling and assistance that SHIPs provide, seniors and people with disabilities may make choices that leave them with high out-of-pocket costs and limited access. 

We ask that you protect this critical program by providing at least $70 million for the SHIP program. This funding will help support all the Americans turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare every day. 

Thank you for considering our request as you continue work on the FY2020 appropriations bill. 

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