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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

Advocacy for SHINE needed now

Roseann MartocciaExecutive Director Roseann MartocciaUncertainty about Federal funding continues. It appears that part of the plan is to reduce many programs which help older people. Congressional committees are working on responding to the President’s FFY 18 budget proposal for the year beginning October 1, 2017. Significant spending cuts will be needed to achieve the savings and tax cuts which have been proposed.

The federal administration has again proposed eliminating a popular federally-funded health counseling program known as SHINE: Serving the Health Information Needs of Everyone. As I write this article, the House Appropriations Committee will be voting on their version of the FFY18 to send to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

In Massachusetts, SHINE annually helps more than 77,000 Massachusetts residents – many of them seniors and their families – get free health counseling to sort through the maze of information about basic health plans, like Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, Prescription Advantage, Health Safety Net and other programs. More than 700 well-trained volunteers across the state provide this much-needed service as the only real source of objective health insurance information. Insurance carriers will pitch their own plans – but SHINE volunteers give you independent advice. Medicare has a toll-free number – but can’t possibly get into all the complex details of which health plan makes the most sense for you. In the 54 communities served by LifePath’s SHINE program, over 40 volunteers assist nearly 4,000 consumers each year saving $4,801,070 across all Medicare beneficiaries in Western Mass communities. Through counseling and review of their options, the SHINE program saved each beneficiary an estimated $1,733.24 per year in health insurance costs. That’s $144 per month that a person on a fixed income can use on other essentials. Statewide in Massachusetts, SHINE counseling resulted in a savings of $105,116,080 in 2016 as consumers made informed choices about their specific health insurance needs and what was most cost effective for them.

SHINE relies on the time and skills of many trained volunteers to help new retirees going onto Medicare, younger persons with disabilities on Medicare and family members helping a loved one to navigate the complexities of health insurance. Counselors compare plans taking into account a person’s prescription drug needs, income and individual situations. They provide information to consumers to choose among their options so that they are making the most cost-effective choice that will serve both their wallet and wellbeing.

The program was proposed to be eliminated in the FFY 17 budget and sustained a 10% funding cut. Just a few months later, we are in the same position of needing to advocate for SHINE. Contact your Representative and Senator in Washington and let them know that SHINE is a needed program that warrants funding increases not elimination. Contact information for lawmakers can be found at here. Thank you for your advocacy.