Senators push to preserve funding for Medicare assistance program

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Lawmakers called on Congress last week to continue funding a program that helps beneficiaries navigate Medicare, following the administration's fiscal year 2018 budget proposing to cut it entirely.

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which provides counselors to Medicare beneficiaries to help with enrollment, choosing plans and appealing coverage denials, found itself on the chopping block for the second time in a year under last week's budget plan.

A previous Senate spending bill suggested cutting the agency in order to spend its $52 million on other issues, such as the Medicare appeals backlog or the opioid epidemic.

In a letter sent to the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday, more than 20 Senators urged the group to include $52.1 million for SHIP in its upcoming appropriations bill.

That funding level is the same as SHIP received in FY 2016; its current funding level is $47.1 million, or under a dollar for each Medicare beneficiary, the lawmakers note in their letter.

“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,” the senators wrote. “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.

Seven million Medicare beneficiaries received assistance from SHIP last year, according to the letter.