What Is a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)?

In this article...
  • Find out how State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) provide older adults with peace of mind, and learn the best ways to find programs in your state.
Man Meets With Insurance Counselor

A State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a free healthcare counseling program available to older adults who are enrolled in Medicare. The program is administered by each state's department of health, department of health and human services or department of aging and disability.

How Do State Health Insurance Assistance Programs Help Older Adults?

Local SHIP counselors and SHIP volunteers work directly with Medicare beneficiaries to help them navigate their Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare supplemental insurance plans and long-term care insurance policies. In some states, these counselors host workshops within the community or may offer one-on-one counseling to answer questions and help seniors file claims with their insurance companies.

Services Provided by SHIP Counselors

SHIP counseling is centered around providing older adults with Medicare assistance. Its services include:

  • One-on-one assistance with health and prescription drug plans
  • Referrals to financial assistance programs that can cover out-of-pocket costs
  • Assistance with understanding Medicare eligibility criteria
  • Assistance with coordinating Medicare coverage with other benefits such as long-term care insurance, Medicaid and supplemental policies
  • Help with filing claims or appealing Medicare coverage decisions

Additionally, many states offer weekly or monthly Medicare workshops. These are generally listed on each state's SHIP website.

Tips for Accessing SHIP

It's important to keep in mind that SHIP doesn't go by the same name in every state. While the services typically remain the same in every state, programs sometimes go by alternative names, such as Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), Medicare Assistance or Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA).

Older adults should keep in mind that the services offered by SHIP are always free of charge and that all individuals who are eligible for Medicare are also eligible for SHIP counseling services.

Finding SHIP in Your State

People with Medicare can access a comprehensive directory of SHIP programs across the U.S. online using the SHIP Locator or by calling SHIP toll-free at (877) 839-2675.

In most cases, SHIP programs can be accessed via state or county Area Agencies on Aging.