EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 17, 2013

You can put a SHINE on your retirement plans

By Rosanne DiStefano
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — :Q: Frequently in your column you mention the SHINE program. I understand the counselors work with people regarding health insurance. Could you expand on what their role is?

:A: In 1990 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded the national State Health Insurance and Assistance Programs (SHIP) which is administered through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Nationwide the programs serve and support 45 million Medicare consumers. Certified counselors are essential in helping individuals navigate insurance options and connecting them to potential benefits.

In Massachusetts the Executive Office of Elder Affairs administers the SHIP program known as SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Elders) in conjunction with local agencies. In 2012, the SHINE program saved 59,000 Medicare consumers more than 81 million dollars. This amazing accomplishment is due in part to the fact people are often unaware of existing options/subsidies and require the expertise and assistance of highly trained SHINE counselors in maximizing benefits.

SHINE counselors provide no cost and confidential assistance to Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65 and younger permanently disabled individuals, dual eligible consumers who also qualify for Medicaid, and caregivers of chronically ill or disabled persons. The extensive knowledge of the counselors can prove to be invaluable to working individuals approaching their 65th birthday or contemplating retirement and questioning how this will impact health insurance coverage.

State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs, Medicare Savings Programs, Medicare Part D enrollment, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income are a few examples of the areas consumers request help in pursuing eligibility. The insurance system can often prove complex and confusing to the average person, the advocacy effort of counselors can be the difference in making the right decision, receiving needed benefits and avoiding future penalties because of delayed enrollment.

SHINE counselors are available in each town to assist consumers with questions. In the 23 cities and towns of the Merrimack Valley call 1-800-892-0890 to find a counselor near you. In other sections of the state call 1-800-243-4636, then press 3 to be connected to SHINE.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890.