CHICAGO – Building on his efforts to improve Illinois senior citizens’ access to health care, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced today the Illinois Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) will receive almost $1 million in federal funding for outreach and training of volunteer senior health advocates across the state.
“Many seniors and people with disabilities across our state live on fixed incomes and need assistance in finding reliable information on the health care and prescription drug plans available to help them save money. As the cost of health care continues to rise – especially the cost of medications – it becomes more important than ever to educate people on their health care options,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We have a wonderful group of volunteers in Illinois who dedicate their time to helping seniors find affordable care. With this additional funding, we’ll be able to better train the people we have and recruit even more volunteers. With more volunteers, we can help more seniors determine which programs best meet their needs, whether it’s I-SaveRx, the Rx Buying Club, Circuit Breaker or the new Medicare program.”
The funds, totaling $993,951, will be used to provide advanced training to current SHIP volunteers about improvements and changes in state and federal coverage options for seniors. With the for changes in the Medicare prescription drug program scheduled to begin on November 15 of this year, seniors will have new options from which to select among federal and state prescription drug programs. Over the course of the next year, additional SHIP volunteer locations will be identified and new volunteers will be recruited and trained.
The SHIP program, initiated in the fall of 1988, now has over 180 offices throughout the state, staffed by nearly 700 volunteer counselors. SHIP volunteer offices are affiliated with community organizations in nearly all Illinois counties. Since its inception, more than 800 SHIP volunteers have contributed nearly 202,000 hours to assist over 174,000 clients in one-on-one counseling sessions, helping Illinois seniors save more than $14.2 million on their health care costs.
Due to sweeping changes in the federal Medicare program, SHIP counseling services are needed now more than ever. Over the next several months nearly 1.5 million Illinois Medicare users will have to learn about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and make a choice. The grant will be used to increase targeted outreach to hard to reach populations, so SHIP volunteers can provide our state’s seniors with easy to understand information about the new Medicare options as well as about state and local prescription drug coverage and other health and long-term care insurance options. The program plans to expand volunteer training and increase awareness of programs through community meetings and workshops, and prepare and distribute new informational materials.
Illinois seniors have many options when it comes to state-funded insurance and prescription drugs programs, including:
- I-SaveRx: Under I-SaveRx, refill prescriptions may be ordered in three-month supplies from state-inspected and approved suppliers in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, with savings of up to 50%. This program has no enrollment fees, and no age, income or residency requirements.
- Circuit Breaker Pharmaceutical Assistance: This program is available through the Illinois Department on Aging (IDOA) to help seniors and disabled persons purchase prescription medicine for one of the following conditions: arthritis, diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, glaucoma, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and smoking related illnesses. Eligibility is limited to individuals whose income is less than $21,218. In a two-person household, the income limit is $28,480, and in a three-person or larger household, the income limit is $35,740.
- Illinois Rx Buying Club: Launched on January 1, 2004. Open to all Illinois residents, age 65 or older, and the disabled. Members pay an annual $10 administrative fee and can receive average savings of 24% on prescription medications purchased at participating pharmacies. The Club also offers a mail order service for larger savings. There are no income restrictions, and no prescription limits.
- The Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (CHIP): This state sponsored insurance program can supplement Medicare coverage for people under 65 if they are eligible for Medicare because of a disability. Any amount paid under Medicare Parts A and B will reduce CHIP plan benefits.
- SeniorCare: This program is designed to help low income seniors in Illinois pay for the prescription drugs they need. Any Illinois senior can enroll if his or her income is no more than $19,140 per year or $25,660 if married. There is no enrollment fee. SeniorCare covers most prescriptions and many over-the-counter drugs if a doctor prescribes them.
All SHIP offices are volunteer-based and supported by local sponsoring organizations. SHIP is sponsored by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Division of Insurance, and is offered statewide to Medicare consumers of all ages. SHIP is not affiliated with any insurance company and volunteer counselors do not sell or solicit any type of insurance.
SHIP staffers are available to speak to community-based organizations or groups of beneficiaries, and can be reached by calling 800-548-9034.