State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

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 2,200 local sponsoring agencies nationwide, such as area agencies on aging, social services agencies, senior housing programs, and hospitals. Nationwide, over 12,500 SHIP counselors provide free, personalized counseling and assistance to about 65 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 authorized the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), to make SHIP grants to states for health advisory services programs for people with Medicare. In 2014, the Consolidated Appropriations Act transferred SHIP from CMS to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) where it is currently managed.

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).

ADvancing States, in collaboration with the SHIP TA Center, developed fact sheets on the end of the COVID-19 pandemic-related Medicaid continuous coverage requirement and considerations for SHIP counselors. “Key Facts on the Expiration of the Medicaid Continuous Coverage Requirement – Part 1” provides a general description of the Medicaid continuous coverage condition and associated federal legislation, as well as state requirements during the unwinding process. “Expiration of the Medicaid Continuous Coverage Requirement and Considerations for SHIPs – Part 2” includes suggestions for SHIPs when counseling Medicare-eligible beneficiaries whose Medicaid benefits changed due to the end of the continuous coverage requirement. Click here to read the documents.

The SHIP program is operated in all states, and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. SHIPs may be located within a state’s Unit on Aging or a state’s Department of Insurance in partnership with local Area Agency on Aging and other community organizations.

Depending on where you live, a SHIP may go by a different name.The SHIP National Technical Assistance Center is the National Ship Resource Center, where you can find information about the SHIP program in your state or find a SHIP counselor in your area. Additionally, click on a state or territory below to see the SHIP program in your state.