Don't cut funding for vital assistance

An open letter to Sen. Murkowski

Dear Senator Murkowski:

The Alaska Commission on Aging (ACoA) is gravely concerned about the proposed 42 percent reduction to the federal State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), from $52 million to $30 million, at a time when Alaska and our nation has witnessed unprecedented growth in our older adult populations. Alaska’s population of people age 65 and older, who number 71,080 and growing at an annual rate of 6 percent, is projected to more than double by 2030 to 152,740. Alaska’s growth rate of the 65+ population is more than 2.5 times the national growth rate as averaged over the last 10 years.

Seniors and younger people with cognitive and behavioral disabilities, including U.S. soldiers returning disabled from Iraq and Afghanistan, rely on Medicare benefits information counseling provided by the SHIP to make informed decisions and connect with their Medicare health benefits.

Alaska’s Medicare Information Office administers the SHIP program statewide and is serving an increasing number of Alaskans. In SFY2015, the office provided information and counseling to 9,129 Alaskan Medicare beneficiaries. Of those, 26 percent are people below 150 percent of federal poverty level, 11 percent are beneficiaries with disabilities, and 7 percent speak English as a second language, including elders and those with disabilities. In SFY2015, the Medicare Information Office also conducted 386 public outreach events that included mailings, radio interviews, television, webinars and other informational presentations.

During the recent Open Enrollment Season, by November, the Medicare Information Office had already assisted 1,273 Alaskans, saving them an average of $1,700 per person on unnecessary costs by providing a personalized drug-plan-comparison and helping them to switch to a more cost effective Part D plan for 2016.

The Alaska Medicare Information Office, supported by a small staff and many trained volunteers, is funded 100 percent with federal SHIP dollars. According to the office’s program manager, a 42 percent reduction in federal funding would reduce the program’s annual budget from $246,743 to $143,113 resulting in the need to cut two staff positions and all of their grantees who train volunteers and provide services to Medicare beneficiaries at senior centers located in Kenai, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and Anchorage in addition to the Southeast Alaska Independent Living Center (SAIL) in Juneau.

We appreciate your thoughtful consideration of this request to preserve SHIP funds. These funds are critical to the sustainability of Alaska’s Medicare Information Office as well as to the continued provision of high-quality SHIP services for Alaskan seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries. Pending Congressional approval, this proposed reduction would be the largest in the history of the SHIP program and would significantly impair the national SHIP network of unbiased, personalized Medicare benefits information counseling.

Lastly, the Alaska Commission on Aging also wants to take this opportunity to thank you for your support of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, as caregivers are vital to helping their loved ones live safely with dignity at home and prevent the need for higher cost care and hospital readmission. Recently, Governor Walker proclaimed November 2015 as Family Caregivers Month in Alaska to raise awareness about the value of family and other natural caregivers to Alaska’s long-term care delivery system and to recognize organizations that serve family caregivers in Alaska with respite, training, counseling and other supports. As always, please feel free to contact our office for further information. Thank you for your leadership in Congress.


Mary E. Shields Alaska Commission on Aging Chair

Denise Daniello Alaska Commission on Aging Executive Director