U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) joined a group of 22 senators on Thursday in demanding that the FY 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill include $52.1 million for the critical State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). President Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate the program. In a letter to HELP Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the group of nearly two dozen senators 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.
In Connecticut, the SHIP program CHOICES helped 34,200 seniors, people with disabilities, and family caregivers last year find the health care program that works for them and their families. Connecticut received over $676,000 in federal funding last year through the SHIP program. There are five regional offices that administer the program.
“SHIPs are a critical source of information for our constituents. SHIPs serv[e] as a trusted source of independent advice that help seniors, people with disabilities and their families navigate Medicare, choose the plans that work best for them, and reduce their out-of-pocket costs,” wrote the Senators. “With 10,000 Americans turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare every day, we should be expanding the ability of SHIPs to meet growing needs, not eliminating their ability to serve those who need assistance.”
The senators continued, “We ask that you protect this critical program by providing $52.1 million in FY 2018 for the SHIP program.”
Connecticut State Department on Aging Commissioner Betsy Ritter said, “In Connecticut, our SHIP Program is called CHOICES, and it serves over 34,000 seniors and people with disabilities each and every year. This service enables them to make the most prudent, appropriate, and comprehensive decisions when selecting their health care coverage. Weakening CHOICES represents an attack on our Medicare program and the people it serves.”
The following senators joined Murphy in sending the letter: U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bill Nelson (D-Fl.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Angus King (I-Maine), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Full text of the letter is available online and below:
Dear Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray,
As you begin work on the FY 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill, we urge you to include $52.1 million for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). This will allow SHIPs to continue their important role in serving as a trusted source of independent advice that helps seniors, people with disabilities and their families navigate Medicare, choose the plans that work best for them, and reduce their out-of-pocket costs.
State Health Insurance Assistance Programs operate in every state, territory and the District of Columbia. SHIPs provide essential information through enrollment clinics, "Welcome to Medicare" events, and informational seminars. With 3,300 state and local offices, they provide free one-on-one, personalized, and unbiased counseling to help individuals understand the range of options they face and get the most of their Medicare benefits. Last year, SHIPs assisted 7 million Medicare beneficiaries. At its current funding level of $47.1 million - less than a dollar for every person enrolled in Medicare - it is critical that we restore funding to the FY 2016 level of $52.1 million as more and more Americans become eligible for Medicare.
We all have constituents trying to decide which Part D prescription drug plan would best meet their needs or asking for help in comparing Medicare Advantage plans and provider networks. They frequently contact our offices to ask how to report suspected fraud, appeal a plan decision or obtain low-income assistance. SHIPs are a critical source of information for our constituents. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare every day, we should be expanding the ability of SHIPs to meet growing needs, not eliminating their ability to serve those who need assistance.
We ask that you protect this critical program and support the 10,000 Americans turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare every day by providing $52.1 million in FY 2018 for the SHIP program. We thank you for your consideration of this request.