Do you have questions about your Medicare coverage and wonder where and how you can get quick, reliable — and free — answers to those questions?

There is a valuable program in your community that can provide the help you need. It’s called the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP. If you’re eligible for Medicare, then you are also eligible for personalized counseling from your local SHIP office.

SHIPs are state programs that receive funds from the federal government to help people with Medicare, their families and their caregivers understand their Medicare benefits. SHIPs are not connected to any insurance company or health plan, so they aren’t trying to sell you any kind of product.

SHIP counselors are volunteers who are trained well to answer your questions, whether you have Original Medicare (in which the government pays your providers directly) or Medicare Advantage (in which private insurers offer health care services through a specific network of doctors, hospitals and other providers).

SHIP volunteers are often Medicare beneficiaries themselves, so they really know the ins and outs of the program and can help you navigate it.

Here are just a few of the issues that a SHIP counselor can help you with:
• Billing problems;
• Complaints about your medical care or treatment;
• How to look for a Medicare Advantage health plan or a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan;
• How Medicare works with other insurance; and
• How to appeal if you disagree with coverage or payment decisions rendered by Medicare or your Medicare plan.

You can speak with SHIP counselors either over the phone or in person at their local office. The phone number for the SHIP office in Hawai‘i is 808-586-7299. If you live in one of the other states in this region, here is their SHIP number:

In Arizona: Call 800-432-4040
In California: Call 800-434-0222
In Nevada: Call 800-307-4444

There are, of course, other ways besides SHIP to get information about Medicare. One excellent resource is the “Medicare & You” handbook, which is mailed to Medicare beneficiaries every fall.
“Medicare & You” is a gold mine of easy-to-understand information about how Medicare works, how to enroll, what services are covered and much more.

You can find the 2015 edition of “Medicare & You” online here.
Help is also available through the Medicare customer service center at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY users call 1-877-486-2048). The call center is open 24 hours a day, including weekends.

Another helpful resource is the official Medicare website,

The website features a wide variety of information about Medicare health and prescription drug plans in your area, including their costs and the services they provide. You can also look for doctors or other health care providers and suppliers who participate in Medicare and see what Medicare covers, including preventive care services.

At, you can also:
• Get Medicare appeals information and forms;
• Access information about the quality of care provided by plans, nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies and dialysis facilities; and
• Find helpful websites and phone numbers.

David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for Hawai‘i, California, Nevada, Arizona and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).


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