Helping States Improve Their Medicare Services

AIR is supporting an effort to strengthen aspects of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), a federally funded, state-based program that offers one-on-one counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries and their families. SHIPs are funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Counselors assist beneficiaries with Medicare questions and problems, such as how to deal with benefits and claims, through telephone and face-to-face sessions, public education presentations and media activities.

In recent years, SHIPs have suffered from high turnover rates for state program directors that were not properly prepared for their positions, due in part to lack of a standardized job description. In some years, nearly 25 percent of the 54 SHIP directors would leave their positions.

AIR implemented a new director training program which successfully reduced turnover rate and brought greater consistency to the programs. The curriculum was prepared in consultation with CMS and featured a faculty that included both veteran SHIP directors and CMS staff members. In assessing the training program’s effectiveness, AIR found that the newly trained directors increased the number of counseling sessions with beneficiaries in their states by 9.8 percent, compared with an overall decline of around 9 percent in the 44 other SHIP programs combined. The new directors also held a higher number of media and public events than the rest of the SHIP directors.