Good News for Medicare: Crucial Programs Avoid Cuts

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You might have heard about the $1.3 trillion Omnibus spending bill (H.R. 1625, the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill) that President Trump signed into law on March 23. The bill includes a $3 billion funding increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the STOP School Violence Act of 2018, and much more. Important to older Americans, the bill provides $12.9 billion for the Social Security Administration’s administrative budget, a $480 million increase over last year.

SHIPs funded

In addition, the bill extended funding for SHIPs (State Health Insurance Assistance Programs) of $49.1 million (up $2 million from last year). SHIPs programs provide local, one-one-one, face-to-face counseling on Medicare. SHIPs programs currently consist of 3,000 local offices with over 15,000 counselors. Counselors help beneficiaries choose the best plan for their situation, avoid penalties, and get assistance with appeals.

SHIPs program are especially important because they help local beneficiaries navigate the Medicare maze. Especially for seniors with limited incomes, local SHIP programs help them to get on Extra Help for prescriptions drug coverage and get other help with their Medicare costs.

Local SHIP counselors help cut through the red tape of Medicare and Social Security. They know about local health providers, and have access to regional Social Security and Medicare staff. The face-to-face aspect makes the counseling all the more effective and ensures seniors make informed decisions. 

President Trump and the House Republicans had proposed cutting all SHIP funding, and funding levels have been cut over and over in previous years. 

Older Americans Act

Under the Older Americans Act (OAA) there are several programs that provide local services and assistance to help older people live on their own in their communities. The Omnibus bill increases funding for the following programs:

  • Supportive services and senior centers
  • Congregate meals
  • Home delivered meals
  • Preventive health
  • National Family Caregiver Support Program
  • Protection of Vulnerable Older Americans
  • Elder Rights Support Activities
  • Adult Protective Services/Elder Justice Initiative
  • Alzheimer’s Disease Demonstrations
  • Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) – flat funded at FY 2017 level

Block grants

In addition, three major block grant programs that help fund home-delivered meals and other programs received funding over and above FY 2017: the Community Development Block Grant, the Social Services Block Grant, and the Community Services Block Grant.

Other important life-giving programs were also funded, including:

  • Alzheimer’s Dementia research funding at the National Institutes of Health
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Section 202 Housing for the Elderly
  • The Senior Corps Programs

The Omnibus bill funds the federal government through September 30.

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