Anthony: Our community needs to keep GeorgiaCares

In the coming days, the House Appropriations Committee will consider a bill that defunds the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP), effectively eliminating ACCA’s GeorgiaCares program. GeorgiaCares helps Medicare beneficiaries identify the most appropriate benefit options from more than 27 prescription drug plans, 49 Medicare Advantage plans, and various Medigap supplemental insurance policies. For nearly twenty years, GeorgiaCares has advised, educated, and empowered individuals to navigate their choices, at no charge. GeorgiaCares also provides assistance with Medicare, fraud and abuse issues, billing problems, appeal rights, and enrollment in low-income assistance programs.

Between FY2011 and FY2015 Athens Community Council on Aging’s GeorgiaCares program has provided benefits counseling to over 16,000 older adults and individuals with disabilities, saving clients over $2.3 million. In this same period, GeorgiaCares has reached an additional 55,330 individuals through nearly 800 outreach and education events. This is a cost effective program that has done this work with the valuable support of over 120 volunteers, accruing 1,700 hours of volunteer service.

While the numbers alone are compelling, the true impact of this program is best shown through the stories of our clients, like Ms. J.

Ms. J heard about the program through a presentation at her senior center. Due to a variety of medical issues, she wanted to get counseling to make sure she had the best insurance plan for her needs. When she came in for an appointment, the GeorgiaCares counselor talked with her about what she needed in an insurance plan. The more they talked, it became clear that the she was living on a tight budget and was concerned about how she would pay for an important surgery.

After the GeorgiaCares consultant screened her for financial assistance, it turned out that she qualified for a program that would help pay her premium, deductibles, and co-pays. The counselor filled out the application with her and before she left, her eyes welled up with tears and couldn’t stop saying “thank you.” A couple months later, Ms. J called again to say she’d received a letter of acceptance for the program and she was able to schedule her surgery now that she knew she could afford it.

The local impact of losing GeorgiaCares would be devastating, but this cut would be felt nationwide. Both the Medicare Rights Center and National Council on Aging have been vocal in their support of the program and warnings of what this cut would mean.

“Understanding the complexities and decisions required for Medicare is an overwhelming, isolating experience for seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers who don’t know where to get help,” said James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.

“SHIPs provide a valuable service that is especially needed for low-income Americans and if they disappear, there are no replacements for the critical program they provide. The loss of SHIPs threatens the economic security and the health of all current Medicare beneficiaries and the thousands who become eligible every day.”

With the Medicare eligible population growing by 10,000 baby boomers each day, the need for unbiased, person-to-person advice provided by GeorgiaCares will continue to rise. Investing in programs such as SHIP in this growing population ultimately saves money for us all. We urge you to contact your representatives to reject the Senate proposal and make the investment in SHIP services to meet the growing needs of beneficiaries.

Eve Anthony is the Chief Executive Officer Interim for the Athens Community Council on Aging.

Here’s how you can help our mission