Op-ed: Commissioner calls on Congress to preserve SHIIP funding

An effort is underway in Congress to eliminate $47 million that goes to programs like North Carolina’s Seniors Health Insurance Information Program. Such an effort fits the old adage of being penny wise and pound foolish.

North Carolina’s SHIIP office gets about $1.4 million a year from the federal government, making up about 65 percent of the program’s budget. The remaining 35 percent comes from state sources.

The SHIIP program saved $60 million for the state’s senior citizens last year alone. These are actual dollars that we can account for, not some number pulled from thin air. The program saved seniors more money in North Carolina alone than the cost of the program nationwide.

We save senior citizens money by sitting down with senior citizens one-on-one, or talking to them individually by phone, and help them decide which prescription coverage plan is right for them, or which supplemental plan will save them the most money.

SHIIP trains 960 volunteers across the state’s 100 counties. Those volunteers, along with our dedicated staff in Raleigh, counseled more than 102,000 Medicare beneficiaries across the state last year. In addition, SHIIP served almost 17,000 Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities. It counseled more than 28,000 people with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

Medicare is confusing. There’s Medicare Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D. Then there are Medicare supplement plans. There are a lot of companies out there vying for senior citizens’ health care premium dollars. This can leave many seniors on fixed incomes wondering what they should do.

SHIIP provides unbiased information to help clear up this confusion, allowing them to decide for themselves which plan works best for them.

It only makes sense that the federal government, which created this complicated system, would continue to pay for a proven program that helps senior citizens make sense of that same system.

The people in Washington pushing to eliminate SHIIP funding say the program is duplicative. In reality, it isn’t.

Sure, the federal government operates a 1-800-MEDICARE call line which seeks to answer citizens’ questions about the federal health program. However, if consumers’ calls get too detailed or complicated, the federal call center usually refers the consumer back to state SHIIP programs for answers to their questions.

If Congress eliminates SHIIP funding, the calls to the federal call line would likely quadruple. The federal government would most likely have to increase its staff to handle the cost, most likely wiping out any savings associated with ending the program.

I encourage North Carolinians to reach out to their U.S. senators and members of Congress and encourage them to preserve SHIIP funding. SHIIP is a program that pays for itself many times over and shouldn’t be eliminated.

(Mike Causey is North Carolina’s Commissioner of Insurance.)

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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.