GUEST COMMENTARY BY JIM VERVILLE
The Congressional Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted to eliminate funding for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for the year that begins Oct. 1.
The Michigan SHIP is called the Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program, often referred to as MMAP.
If the funding is ended, Michigan MMAP, as well as similar programs in all other states would not be able to continue the free services they provide to seniors.
The MMAP has helped over 7,000 beneficiaries this past year.
The myriad of Medicare and Medicaid plans along with all of the associated requirements and rules can be very daunting for seniors.
Beneficiaries come to us with a lot of anxiety because health insurance is such a huge concern to them.
Most people served by MMAP are on a fixed income, and want to be sure they have health insurance that has the coverage they want and is affordable.
MMAP counselors do a great job explaining the benefits and costs associated with the wide range of plans available.
About half of the Michigan MMAP team are volunteers.
The others work for organizations that provide services to seniors including MMAP counseling.
There are 52 counselors in this region.
Each of them are trained and certified to provide free, local, and unbiased help to Medicare beneficiaries.
The savings that MMAP counselors are able to achieve for seniors is substantial.
During the 53 day Annual Medicare Enrollment period last year the Region 10 team was able to save seniors a total of $1.4 million by helping them switch to a another Medicare prescription drug plan.
We need to start documenting the other areas where we help seniors save money.
MMAP counselors also screen folks for eligibility in the Extra Help program that helps pay for their prescription insurance premium and lower the co-payments for their medications.
MMAP counselors also help their clients apply for Medicaid benefits that can pay for their Part B premium and also help with the co-pay and deductible expenses associated with their health care.
Contrary to the Senate action, the House Appropriations Subcommittee recently voted to continue funding SHIP at the current level for the upcoming program year.
The full House budget committee still needs to vote on the program budget.
It’s not known whether there will be floor debates any time soon.
Chances are neither the House nor the Senate funding packages will be approved in their respective chambers until later this year.
If Medicare beneficiaries and others are concerned about the loss of these services, they should contact the Michigan US Congressional delegation.
Personal stories about how the MMAP has been able to help can also be important.
Counseling services are available anywhere in Michigan by calling MMAP at (800) 803-7174.
Jim Verville is the Region 10 Coordinator of the Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program for the Area Agency on Aging, located in Traverse City