House panel votes to continue funding for Medicare assistance program

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A massive health spending bill recently voted on by members of a House subcommittee includes a funding pledge for a program put on the chopping block by a similar Senate bill last month.

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, provides counselors to help Medicare beneficiaries navigate enrollment, choosing insurance plans and appealing coverage denials.

Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee's voted on Thursday to continue $52 million in funding for the SHIP program, to the relief of seniors and Medicare advocates.  Many groups worried that eliminating the program — as proposed in the Senate's health spending bill — would cause widespread confusion among seniors entering the program.

“If the House had cut SHIP, we would have been in trouble, but the fact that funding levels are maintained gives us optimism,” Howard Bedlin, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the National Council on Aging, told Kaiser Health News.

Bedlin says his group supports maintaining the current funding levels for SHIP in the final House-Senate spending agreement, instead of pushing for increased support, “given the political realities.”

The full House appropriations committee is expected to approve the spending bill this week.