As the director of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, I want to raise awareness to the risk to State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) funding, greatly impacting Medicare services provided to Minnesota seniors and disabled Minnesotans under age 65 who receive Medicare benefits.
The Minnesota Board on Aging and Area Agencies on Aging provide the statewide Senior LinkAge Line® service, which is Minnesota’s federally designated SHIP. Our role as SHIP is to provide individualized, objective Medicare counseling to help Minnesota Medicare beneficiaries decide what is best for them.
The President’s proposed budget does not provide funding for SHIP. In addition, due to Congressional budget issues, we only received four months of current SHIP funding, instead of the full grant award. This seriously threatens the Senior LinkAge Line’s® ability to serve Minnesota’s nearly 956,000 Medicare beneficiaries, a rapidly growing sector of the population. Without SHIP funding, Medicare counseling efforts will dramatically change.
Also of concern is that Medicare Cost plans are scheduled to end December 2018, forcing 386,000 Minnesotans to make major decisions about their Medicare coverage. Unless Congress acts, these decisions will have to be made without the assistance of SHIP (the Senior LinkAge Line®). Medicare Cost plans are the most popular plan option in Minnesota. They offer consumers the option of using Original Medicare benefits for services outside their plan network.
As Medicare becomes increasingly more complex, consumers must bear the burden of fully understanding all of their options and making good choices for themselves. If beneficiaries do not choose the plan that is the best fit for them, they could enroll in a plan that does not cover their provider or prescription drugs, and they may have to pay a higher premium. If they miss their enrollment window, they may have to pay premium penalties for the rest of their lives.
Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers across the state increasingly have come to depend upon SHIP services. The Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging is very concerned with any loss of SHIP funding. We ask for your support to ensure that Congress fully funds SHIP and resolves the budgetary issues that threaten the funding of this critical program.
Thank you for your assistance with this important issue.
Linda Giersdorf, Executive Director