State Health Insurance Assistance Programs help seniors navigate the Medicare maze

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs)
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State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs)

Every day, 10,000 people across the United States celebrate their 65th birthday and become eligible for enrollment in Medicare. Even without the additional challenge of COVID-19 Social Security office closures, it can be tough to navigate the alphabet soup of Medicare to ensure that you enroll in the different parts of Medicare at the right time and choose additional insurance plans that best meet your needs and budget.

Even once you are enrolled in Medicare, questions about coordinating care, coverage and costs are common and unscrupulous scammers may exploit uncertainty to take advantage of people, particularly while they are distracted by the current global events.

Recognizing it is vital that Medicare-eligible individuals, their families and caregivers have access to free, in-depth and objective insurance counseling and assistance, federally funded State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) work with their local communities to provide this.

The vast majority of our knowledgeable and approachable SHIP counselors are volunteers who are also Medicare beneficiaries and have firsthand experience of its complexities. During this pandemic, these volunteers have ably adapted to working remotely – offering Zoom sessions to the more technologically minded, contributing to local forums and developing a resilience plan to ensure people remain informed but not overwhelmed. In a world where call centers are often based far from home, it can be a relief to speak to someone who knows the hospitals, pharmacies and providers that are familiar to you.

In addition, the SHIP team continues to keep up to date with national changes made by Medicare in response to COVID-19 and its impact on healthcare provision in the U.S., so they can provide you with appropriate guidance. For example, in response to the current public health emergency, Medicare has expanded its coverage of telehealth services. While for those who require skilled nursing care, certain requirements have been waived.

The Mercer County SHIP team can be contacted by calling 609-273-0588 or emailing cforbes@chsofnj.org and we do our best to respond to all queries within one working day – if we’re not able to answer the phone to you at the time. For anyone living in another county, we are always happy to answer your question or redirect you to your local team.

Though millennials may feel that there is no question that cannot be answered by entering the right terms into an internet search engine, our seniors know there is no substitute for a friendly voice with a wealth of experience and we are hugely grateful to our volunteer SHIP team for continuing to be there for our community during these unusual times. For anyone with Medicare questions, big or small, we encourage you to contact your local SHIP team without delay.

Cathy Forbes
Mercer County SHIP coordinator
The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey