The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a national program that provides local one-on-one counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries and their families on Medicare and other health insurance issues. The goal of the program is to provide beneficiaries with accurate, understandable, and objective health insurance information so they can make informed coverage decisions and understand their rights and protections. Through federal grants directed to states, SHIPs provide free counseling and assistance via telephone and face-to-face interactive sessions, public education presentations and programs, and media activities.
SHIP staff recruit and train volunteers, including counselors who work in over 1,300 local sponsoring agencies nationwide, such as area agencies on aging, social services agencies, senior housing programs, and hospitals. Nationwide, over 12,000 SHIP counselors provide free, personalized counseling and assistance to the 45 million Medicare beneficiaries and their families across America.
SHIP (formerly the Information, Counseling and Assistance (ICA) Grants Program) was created under Section 4360 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1990 (P.L. 101-508). This Act authorizes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), to make SHIP grants to states for health advisory services programs for people with Medicare. States have wide latitude in providing SHIP services. The SHIP grants support a community-based network of state and local programs that provide personalized assistance to Medicare beneficiaries and their families on questions related to Medicare, supplemental insurance policies (Medigap), Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs), Medicaid issues, long-term care insurance, and other health insurance issues. Since the passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003 (P.L. 108–173), a major focus of SHIP-funded programs has been to help beneficiaries obtain Medicare prescription drug coverage, Medicare Part D, and enroll in the Medicare prescription drug low-income subsidy (LIS) program and in Medicare Savings Programs (MSP).
The SHIP program is operated in all states, and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.