DOBSON — The state Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program was created in 1986 to provide a link between older citizens and their health coverage and continues to pay big dividends in Surry County.
This included $350,546 in savings for the 211 Surry consumers assisted by that agency in 2021 through the local Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program office, the N.C. Cooperative Extension unit based in Dobson.
Many retirees and Medicare beneficiaries on a fixed income want to save money wherever they can. And officials of the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program, aka SHIIP — a division of the N.C. Department of Insurance — report that each year thousands of people throughout the state contact that agency to help them identify savings in their Medicare coverages.
It was launched nearly 40 years ago by the late Jim Long, then North Carolina’s insurance commissioner, to provide a link between older citizens and information about their health coverage.
The beauty of the concept involved is that unlike some entities that purportedly provide helpful information to consumers, but actually want to sell them policies, SHIIP counselors are totally unbiased. They are not licensed insurance agents and do not sell, endorse or oppose any product, plan or company.
Persons with questions about their specific plans are still encouraged to contact their insurance agents or the companies involved.
Local interest strong
The Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program is particularly geared toward a county such as Surry, where 21% of residents are 65 and older — higher than the nation as a whole.
This was evidenced during a “Welcome to Medicare” program the agency held on June 9 at the N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Dobson. It drew “a good crowd,” according to Carmen Long, an area extension agent for family and consumer education in Surry and Alleghany counties.
The Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program assists people with Medicare, Medicare Part D, Medicare supplement, Medicare Advantage and long-term care insurance questions.
Throughout the year, but particularly during the Medicare Open Enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, Medicare beneficiaries are urged to compare their existing coverage for the Part D prescription drug plan to determine if their present plan is still the most appropriate for the coming year.
Each year formularies, prices and programs change, and many times the Medicare beneficiary is unaware of the differences.
The Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program also helps citizens recognize and prevent Medicare billing errors and possible fraud and abuse through the N.C. Senior Medicare Patrol program.
Persons with questions about Medicare or the Extra Help program — which assists those with limited income and resources in paying Medicare prescription drug costs — can contact SHIIP at 1-855-408-1212 to speak with a trained counselor or request a free brochure.
Contact information for local coordinating sites in each county in North Carolina also can be found by visiting www.ncshiip.com.
In 2021, SHIIP and its coordinating sites statewide assisted 58,000 consumers, saving them $30 million. In addition, nearly 1,500 consumers received assistance in applying for the Extra Help program.
So far during 2022, the agency has aided 12,371 people, translating to $1.4 million in cost savings.