What Does Medicare Assistance Mean to You? Contact Congress Today!

What Does Medicare Assistance Mean to You? Contact Congress Today!

Last year, Frank Mirabella underwent sinus surgery that racked up a hospital bill of almost $23,000.

He expected Medicare to pay for it. But Mirabella, 76, received a letter from Sutter Health, a large health system in Northern California, explaining that the federal health program for seniors wouldn’t cover the surgery because he had an old, still-open workers’ compensation case.

As far as he knew, there was no open case, Frank’s wife, Sonya Mirabella, 82, said. She said she called the hospital and Medicare many times to sort it out, bouncing from person to person with no resolution.

“We thought about getting a lawyer because we couldn’t straighten it out,” Sonya said. “By this time, I was in tears.”

The Redwood City, Calif., couple then sought help at the local office of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) in San Mateo County. If not for HICAP’s legal assistance, Frank’s Medicare glitch might never have been resolved, Sonya said. Almost 11 months later, Medicare paid its portion for the surgery.

This excerpt from a California Healthline article provides just one among countless examples of why HICAP in California and other Medicare counseling programs throughout the country, known as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) nationwide, are so important. HICAP/SHIP provides free, unbiased and individual counseling and advocacy on Medicare and other health care related issues to millions of beneficiaries, their families and caregivers. They provide help navigating coverage options, appeals, billing questions and errors, fraud and abuse, and enrolling in low-income protection programs. And these programs are again at risk of losing their funding.

With 10,000 people becoming eligible for Medicare each day, the need and importance of this program will only increase.

For FY 2018, the Trump Administration and House appropriators have proposed eliminating SHIP funding. The Senate proposes to keep the funding at the same level as last year. Congress is working now to finalize the FY 2018 budget.

Join us in contacting your Congress people today at 202-224-3121 to demand full funding for the SHIP programs in FY 2018. Share what reliable Medicare assistance means to you and your family. The National Council on Aging also has an online template letter you can easily send to your Congress people. Please also take a few moments to personalize your letter with sharing your experience of HICAP/SHIP in your community.

Thank you for your advocacy efforts!

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.