The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is not another type of program or insurance provider that provides or sells Medicare coverage. It is a nationwide program, yet each state provides their own State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselors. In 2018, SHIP provided one-on-one counseling to nearly 2,700,000 Medicare beneficiaries, their family members, and caregivers. More than 330,000 of those people were adults under the age of 65 who have disabilities.

How Does SHIP Operate?

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) was created as a part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) also explains that the law that created SHIP “authorized the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to make grants to states to establish and maintain health insurance advisory service programs for Medicare beneficiaries.” The Administration for Community Living assumed control of SHIP in 2014 and continues to manage the program today.

Each state has its own State Health Insurance Assistance Program. SHIP also operates in Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Each of the 54 SHIP grantees provides highly trained community volunteers who provide unbiased counseling services through a variety of methods, including one-on-one meetings, community meetings, workshops or events.

Do SHIP Counselors Sell Insurance Coverage for Medicare Beneficiaries?

The SHIP counselors help people who have Medicare or who are Medicare-eligible by providing information that helps Medicare beneficiaries to make decisions about their coverage plans. The State Health Insurance Assistance Program states that the mission of SHIP is to “empower, educate and assist Medicare-eligible individuals, their families and caregivers through objective outreach, counseling and training, to make informed health insurance decisions that optimize access to care and benefits.”

Counselors do not pressure people who are Medicare-eligible or who have Medicare to choose a specific provider for their Medicare coverage. SHIP volunteers are not insurance representatives. They do not sell insurance or anything else to people who receive assistance from SHIP counselors.

What Services are Provided by the State Health Insurance Assistance Program?

SHIP provides a variety of services, which include:

  • Free and unbiased counseling services.
  • Information about how and when you should enroll in Medicare.
  • How to join or leave a specific plan and when to do so.
  • Guidance to understand Medicare and to navigate the many complexities of Medicare.
  • Information about the different parts of Medicare and what each one of them covers.
  • Information to navigate Medicare payments and information about out-of-pocket Medicare costs.

SHIP counselors can also provide Medicare beneficiaries or enrollees with information about how Medicare works with other insurance, such as insurance coverage for retirees, Medicaid, Medicare Supplement coverage and other insurance.

Do you have questions about Medicare Part D, which is prescription drug coverage? Talk to your SHIP counselor to get specific details about prescription drug plan options. Make sure that you speak to your SHIP counselor about your rights when you have Medicare coverage.


  1. State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), ACL.
  2. State Health Insurance Assistance Program, Navigating the Complexities, SHIP.