Medicare Counseling Program Marks 25th Anniversary, Honors Volunteers

STATE — The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides Medicare beneficiaries free, unbiased and accurate information on their coverage options, today marked its 25th anniversary by honoring the program’s 400 trained counselors, including 200 who are volunteers.

“Medicare is a complex and ever-changing federal program. Seniors are often unsure of their options and uneasy about making a coverage choice or change without first talking with someone who knows Medicare better than they do,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd. “We have been fortunate that for 25 years our beneficiaries have had trained, knowledgeable and dedicated counselors.”

Approximately 175 of SHIP’s 400 counselors attended a conference and recognition event held today at the Robert Wood Johnson Hamilton Center for Health and Wellness. Individuals cited for special recognition included counselors with more than 10 and 20 years of service (30 and 10 counselors, respectively) and counselors selected by their local coordinators in recognition of their outstanding service.

SHIP started in New Jersey as a pilot program in three counties and, in 1987, became a permanent state program with trained counselors in every county by the end of 1988. The program was used as a model by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) when it established the national SHIP program two years later. Today, every state in the nation has a SHIP.

“AARP commends the 25th anniversary of this invaluable program,” said AARP New Jersey State President Dave Mollen. “For a quarter of a century, it has helped to make the confusing world that is Medicare less so by providing a helping hand to AARP members, and to all New Jerseyans, in understanding the coverage options they have available to them.”

Last year, New Jersey’s SHIP counselors assisted 40,000 Medicare beneficiaries with 30,000 hours of personalized local counseling. Local SHIP agencies, one in each county, also sponsored over 500 Medicare education events – most during Medicare’s fall open enrollment period – to help beneficiaries make informed choices about their health and prescription coverage.

SHIP counselors typically meet one-on-one with beneficiaries at a public location such as an office or library. They walk the beneficiary step by step through the maze of Medicare regulations, medical bills, insurance claims, and health plan choices. Counselors do not give advice but rather ensure beneficiaries have the facts they need to make choices that best meet their individual needs.

Counselors also help beneficiaries to resolve enrollment and claim problems and help individuals with low incomes and limited assets enroll in programs that cut out-of-pocket healthcare costs for those who meet program eligibility standards.

New Jersey’s SHIP counselors, both volunteers and aging and social services agency workers who counsel as part of their jobs, undergo a comprehensive 30-hour training course in order to learn about Medicare and other health insurance programs for retirees and individuals with disabilities. They also participate in update training sessions held in their counties three times each year.

At today’s celebration of 25 years of service honorees included:

Volunteer Counselors with 20+ years of Service

  • Al Farkas, Lumberton, Burlington County
  • Mary Calkins, Port Elizabeth, Cumberland
  • James Molette, Port Elizabeth, Cumberland
  • Marion Listwan, Harrison, Hudson
  • Lucia Morelli, Monroe Twp, Middlesex
  • Harry Scher, Englishtown, Monmouth
  • Robert Sigman, Parsippany, Morris
  • Jim McCrudden, Rockaway, Morris
  • Adele Wines, Sparta, Sussex

Volunteers Cited for Outstanding Service

  • Frank Coffman, Medford, Burlington
  • Harry Purnell, Princeton, Mercer
  • Daniel Nitka, Hamilton, Mercer
  • Paul Beller, Monroe Twp, Middlesex
  • Walter Keyl, Tinton Falls, Monmouth
  • Jim McCrudden, Rockaway, Morris
  • Ron Ouellete, Mine Hill, Morris
  • George Harlan, Somerville, Somerset
  • Nancy Kearns, Bridgewater, Somerset
  • Barbara Forsberg, Easton, PA (volunteers in Sussex after moving from Ocean)
  • Richard Loberfield, Fanwood, Union
  • Patricia Walsh, Westfield, Union
  • Frankie Boykin, DHSS SHIP Hotline
  • Christine Dunn, DHSS SHIP Hotline

Medicare beneficiaries seeking assistance from SHIP can visit the program’s website at or call the program’s toll-free number at 1-800-792-8820. Individuals in need of one-on-one counseling should call their county coordinator to schedule an appointment.

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