Free Help Available on Understanding Medicare

Do you ever have questions about your Medicare? Have you ever wondered where you can get fast, reliable answers to those questions — free of charge? There’s a terrific program in your community that can help. It’s called the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). If you’re eligible for Medicare, you’re eligible for personalized counseling from your local SHIP office.

SHIPs are state programs that get money from the federal government to help people with Medicare, their families and their caregivers understand Medicare benefits. SHIPs aren’t connected to any insurance company or health plan, so they’re not trying to sell you any kind of product.

SHIP counselors are volunteers who have been well-trained to answer your questions, whether you have Original Medicare (where the government pays your providers directly) or Medicare Advantage (in which private insurers offer health care services through a specific network of doctors, hospitals, and other providers).

SHIP volunteers are often Medicare beneficiaries themselves, so they really know the ins and outs of the program and can help you navigate it.

And did I mention that SHIP counseling is absolutely free?

Here are some of the issues that a SHIP counselor can help you with billing problems and complaints about your medical care or treatment;

They can explain how to look for a Medicare Advantage health plan or Medicare Part D prescription

drug plan and how Medicare works with other insurance. They can also show you how to appeal if you disagree with coverage or payment decisions by Medicare or your Medicare plan.

You can speak with SHIP counselors either over the phone or in person at your local office. Call 800-434-0222 to find out how you can get in touch with a SHIP volunteer.

Of course, there are other ways besides SHIP to get information about Medicare. One excellent resource is the Medicare & You handbook, which is mailed to Medicare beneficiaries every fall. Medicare & You is a gold mine of easy-to-understand information about how Medicare works, how to enroll, what services are covered and many other topics. You can find the 2015 edition of Medicare & You online at

Help is also available through the Medicare customer service center, at 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227; TTY users call 877-486-2048). The call center is open 24 hours a day, including weekends.

Another helpful resource is the official Medicare website, at

The website has a wide variety of information about Medicare health and prescription drug plans in your area, including what they cost and what services they provide. You can look for doctors or other health care providers and suppliers who participate in Medicare and see what Medicare covers, including preventive care services.

At, you also can get Medicare appeals information and forms; get information about the quality of care provided by plans, nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies and dialysis facilities and look up helpful websites and phone numbers.

Alameda resident David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and the Pacific Territories.