State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)


The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides Medicare beneficiaries with information, counseling, and enrollment assistance. Its mission is to strengthen the capability of grantees to support a community-based, grassroots network of local SHIP offices that assist beneficiaries with their Medicare-related questions.

SHIPs present and distribute information to groups and individuals to inform them on Medicare benefits, coverage rules, written notices and forms, appeal rights and procedures, and more. They also provide free, in-depth, one-on-one insurance counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries, their families, friends, and caregivers.

SHIPs assist people in obtaining coverage through options that include the Original Medicare program, Medicare Advantage (Part C) Plans, Medicare Prescription Drug (Part D) Plans, and programs designed to help people with limited incomes pay for their health care, such as Medicaid, the Medicare Savings Program, and the Low Income Subsidy. They can help people compare Medicare Supplemental (Medigap) insurance policies and explain how these and other supplemental insurance options (e.g., insurance plans for retirees) work with Medicare.

SHIPs also provide information on long-term care insurance and, when needed, refer beneficiaries to agencies such as the Social Security Administration and local Medicaid offices for additional assistance. Many SHIP counselors are volunteers who are trained and certified to help navigate systems for older adults and some people with disabilities.


There are 54 SHIP grantees (all states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The Program oversees a network of more than 3,300 local SHIP programs and over 15,000 counselors, 57% of whom are highly trained volunteers. Two-thirds of SHIP programs are housed under the State Units on Aging and the others under State Departments of Insurance.


SHIP was created under Section 4360 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1990 (Public Law 101-508). This section of the law authorized the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to make grants to states to establish and maintain health insurance advisory service programs for Medicare beneficiaries. Grant funds were made available to support information, counseling, and assistance activities relating to Medicare, Medicaid, and other related health insurance options such as: Medicare supplement insurance, long-term care insurance, and managed care options. Authorized in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, SHIP was transferred from CMS to ACL in 2014. This transfer reflects the existing formal and informal collaborations between the SHIP programs and the networks that ACL serves. Many SHIPs are housed in or create local partnerships with Area Agencies on Aging. Almost 50 percent of SHIPs are co-located with the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) program, also administered by ACL.

Funding History

State Health Insurance Assistance Program

Fiscal Year Dollar Amount
FY 2010 $45 million
FY 2011 $50 million
FY 2012 $52.1 million
FY 2013 $51.9 million
FY 2014 $52.1 million
FY 2015 $52.1 million
Performance Data

Client contacts: Increased from 1,246,441 in 2005, to 2,891,784 in 2013.
Public-Media Events: Increased from 57,041 in 2005, to 87,262 in 2013.
Education: In FY13, SHIPs reached approximately 5.3 million persons through public and media outreach.
Counseling: In FY13, SHIPs served more than 2.6 million Medicare beneficiaries through one-on-one counseling.
Inquiries Received: More than 1,545,000 inquiries, including one-on-one counseling and
complaints regarding potential fraud, error or abuse, have been received from beneficiaries,
their families, or caregivers.

Resources and Useful Links

The SHIP National Technical Assistance Center (SHIP TA Center) ( is a central source of information for and about the national program. The Center provides training, technical assistance, and promotional activities in support of SHIP and its 54 individual projects. The site allows one to locate a SHIP in his or her area.

The National Council on Aging, Center for Benefits Access ( helps organizations to enroll seniors and young adults with disabilities who have limited means into benefits programs for which they are eligible.

The official U.S. government site for Medicare (

Last modified on 08/30/2017

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