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Need Help Navigating Medicare?

Maryalene LaPonsie | October 25, 2010

Question: I'm new to Medicare and have been struggling to understand my coverage, and the other options I have. Are there any resources out there to help me with my new health insurance?

Answer: Medicare offers affordable health insurance to senior and disabled Americans. Unfortunately, understanding Medicare terminology and navigating the system can be overwhelming, especially for new enrollees. To help Medicare recipients, the federal government requires that each state offer a State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (SHIP).

SHIPs are a gateway for information about affordable health insurance through Medicare. By contacting your SHIP office, you can learn:

  • The difference between Medicare health plans
  • Whether you need Medigap supplemental health insurance
  • How to read your Medicare bill
  • Your rights and how to appeal claims denials
  • How to file a complaint about your medical treatment

Services offered by SHIP are free of charge to Medicare recipients, their family members or individuals who become eligible for Medicare. Because SHIP agencies are government offices, you receive unbiased information about your medical insurance options.

To access SHIP services, you may be able to visit a local office and meet directly with a counselor who can give you personalized advice about Medicare, Medigap supplemental health insurance and other medical coverage questions. In addition, if you are interested in purchasing a supplemental health insurance, or Medigap policy, a SHIP counselor may be able to explain the various coverage option to you.

If you are unable to meet a counselor in person, most offices offer a toll-free hotline where you can call for information, as well as request Medicare publications.

It is important to know that not every state uses the name "SHIP" for its agency. For example, while Illinois has a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), Florida calls its program Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE). To locate the SHIP office in your state, visit the Medicare website.

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