When someone with Medicare finds his or her way to my office phone, it’s often because of a complicated and snarly issue that’s going to take time to fix.
However, it’s sometimes a Medicare beneficiary who found my number somewhere and called for some basic help in understanding their coverage. I love those calls because I have a quick and easy answer for folks like that.
I refer them to the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP. There’s a SHIP in every state in the country. I have phone numbers for the ones in my Medicare region written on a card right next to my phone, and I refer to it often. The California SHIP phone number is 800-434-0222.
SHIPs are nonprofit organizations that help people with Medicare understand their benefits better. The counseling is personalized and it’s absolutely free.
SHIPs aren’t connected to any insurance company or health plan, so they’re not trying to sell you any kind of product. If you’re eligible for Medicare, you’re eligible for assistance from your local SHIP. You can talk to a SHIP counselor over the phone, or go to your local SHIP office for face-to-face assistance.
The quality of the counseling is terrific. Many SHIP counselors have Medicare themselves and they’re well-trained to answer your questions. They know all the ins and outs of the program, whether you have Original Medicare (where you choose the doctor or hospital you want and the government pays your providers directly) or Medicare Advantage (in which private insurers offer health-care services through a specific network of doctors, hospitals and other providers). SHIPs also can help with Part D prescription drug insurance.
A SHIP counselor can help you with billing problems, complaints about your medical care or treatment, how to shop for a Medicare Advantage health plan or Part D prescription drug plan that meets your needs; how to appeal if you disagree with coverage or payment decisions by Medicare or your Medicare plan and many more.
Of course, there are other ways besides SHIP to get information about Medicare. One excellent resource is the “Medicare & You” handbook, which is mailed to Medicare beneficiaries every fall. You can find the latest edition of “Medicare & You” online at: www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/10050.pdf
Help also is available through the Medicare customer service center, at 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227; TTY users can call 877-486-2048). The call center is open 24 hours a day, including weekends.
Another helpful resource is the official Medicare website, at www.Medicare.gov.