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COMMENTARY: SHINE Program Funding Vital for Southwest Florida's Seniors
Federal lawmakers are threatening to eliminate the funding for all State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) like SHINE. These programs provide free, unbiased, personalized assistance to seniors as they attempt to navigate the Medicare maze.
Most seniors depend on Medicare for all or part of their health insurance coverage. They choose from a dizzying array of plans with varying costs and coverage levels, including 20 prescription plans and nearly as many Medicare Advantage plans. Comparing options and choosing the right plan can be difficult, time-consuming, and downright confusing.
Fortunately, free, unbiased and personalized assistance is available to elders as they navigate the Medicare maze. It's a program called SHINE: Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders. In Southwest Florida alone, more than 12,000 seniors took advantage of SHINE last year to choose the right Medicare plan. Many are able to save thousands of dollars, thanks to the SHINE program and its volunteers.
But Federal lawmakers are threatening to eliminate the funding for all State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) like SHINE.
What will happen without these vital programs? Seniors would have nowhere to turn for unbiased, one-on-one advice. Our elders would lose advocates who help them understand their benefits, assist them with claims and appeals, connect them to other local resources, and answer their questions about long-term care planning.
One of those seniors is Helen (not her real name), a 90-year-old widow who came to her SHINE counselor in desperate need. Helen struggled with vision loss, but wasn't taking the drug she needed to prevent her condition from worsening. Simply put, the prescription was too expensive. Helen's SHINE counselor not only helped her select the best plan for her specific needs, but also connected Helen to the Social Security Extra Help program to help Helen pay her premiums and copays.
That type of impartial individual care simply wouldn't exist without SHINE. Without this vital program, older adults would have to turn to call center operators trained to provide scripted information about Medicare. Or, without SHINE, our elders could seek guidance from insurance providers that are focused on selling products rather than providing unbiased advice.
10,000 Americans become eligible for Medicare every day. For many, SHIP programs like SHINE are a lifeline to education for one of the most important choices they'll make in their lives.
Here in Southwest Florida, SHINE is overseen by the Area Agency on Aging, your Aging and Disability Resource Center. We at AAASWFL are urging you, on behalf of the 416,000 seniors living in Southwest Florida, to contact your lawmakers and tell them to vote to continue funding this vital program. If you've personally benefited from SHINE, tell them about your experience. You can also help save SHINE by signing our online petition, located at http://www.aaaswfl.org/
Together, we can all do our part to keep SHINE's light burning bright.
Marianne Lorini, President/CEO