The Senate Labor-HHS measure that recently passed out of the Appropriations Committee would zero out the State Health Insurance Assistance Program.

Eliminating SHIP would leave stranded millions of people who need support comparing coverage options, appealing denials, applying for financial assistance and navigating increasingly complex Medicare benefits, with nowhere to turn.

Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country, with many older adults living on fixed incomes, and countless are living under the poverty guideline. Helping them to make wise choices about Medicare plans saves them money that they may then use to pay for other living expenses, such as heating their homes or paying for transportation to medical appointments.

In 2015, SeniorsPlus alone provided counseling to nearly 2,000 seniors in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties. Of those, 64 percent saw savings as a result, savings that amounted to just under $1 million.

Why would some lawmakers consider eliminating such an effective, important program as SHIP?

I am concerned that those lawmakers do not fully understand the unique value of SHIP and may believe the one-on-one counseling work is duplicating other Medicare education options. It is not. Without SHIP, the million dollars SeniorsPlus found and helped people save will go to insurance companies for unnecessary premium costs while squeezing the finances of an already vulnerable population.

Legislators must be made aware that this vital program should not be tragically compromised or eliminated.

Betsy Sawyer-Manter, Lewiston

Executive director, SeniorsPlus

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