Medicare and California State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP)

If you’re new to Medicare, or even if you’re not, you might not be familiar with a very useful and free tool called the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Every state has one.

While the names of the programs vary state by state, the purpose is the same: to offer free one-on-one counseling and assistance to people with Medicare. These organizations answer your Medicare questions so that you understand your health care options, how to select the best Medicare plan for you, learn about Medicare supplement insurance (Medigap) and understand your Medicare rights

“When you are new to Medicare and trying to decide the best health care options for you and your family,” notes Alan Weinstock, insurance broker at, “there is a lot of information to weed through. It can be very confusing. Speaking with a counselor at your local SHIP can cut through a lot of the detail quickly.”

California Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP)

In the state of California, seniors can access counselors through the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), a SHIP program that provides free, unbiased Medicare counseling and help with other health care issues. Counselors can help you.

Choose a health care plan.
Decide between Original Medicare (fee-for-service) and Medicare Advantage Plans.
Understand your health plan choices.
Determine how to purchase additional health insurance such as a Medigap policy or long-term care insurance.
Understand how to appeal payment denials.
Understand your Medicare rights and how to submit a complaint about medical care or treatment.

As part of the California Department on Aging, 24 HICAPs throughout the state of California offer face-to-face, telephone and online assistance as well at

The National Council on Aging

In addition to a select group of Medicare-related publications and a list of local HICAPS, the California Department on Aging offers a link to the National Council on aging and their web-based service, BenefitsCheckUp, which offers comprehensive help to screen for senior benefits programs for older Americans with limited income and resources. It can offer assistance to find help paying for prescription drugs, health care, utilities and other basic needs.

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