Senate committee eliminates Medicare program from budget

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GREENVILLE, NC (WNCT) – A program that assists seniors could be eliminated this year.

The US Senate Appropriations Committee overwhelming approved a spending bill which gets rid of the funding for the State Health Insurance Assistance Plan, known as SHIP.

SHIP is a free health benefits counseling service for Medicare beneficiaries. It helps save seniors hundreds, even thousands of dollars, while providing them with assistance regarding health insurance.

Many tell WNCT they can’t lose this benefit.

“If the plan were to go away, the program were to go away, it would be catastrophic,” said Pitt County Council on Aging Executive Director Rich Zeck. “It would affect the majority of older adults who are overpaying on the plan that they don’t need.”

Trained counselors provide free, one-on-one advice on Medicare coverage and benefits to older adults and their families, helping them choose between different prescription and insurance plans.

Over 7 million Americans relied on this program in 2015. Last year, it saved Pitt County residents over $1.7 million dollars.

Pitt Count resident, Patricia Clemmons, hopes she can continue to benefit from the program.

“You don’t have to choose between food; whether to buy your groceries or not buy your medication,” said Clemmons, who’s legally blind. Without the program, she wouldn’t be able to determine the plan which best meets her needs. Counselors assisted her, and she now saves hundreds each year.

Cutting the SHIP program could save our country $52 million. That money is expected to help pay for treatment and prevention plans in the health field.

But for seniors like Patricia, SHIP helps her save, while getting the health care she needs.

“Seniors need good health programs,” said Clemons. “They need to be able to buy their medicine so they can feel good and live a healthy life.”

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