It came down to the wire, but a federal agency that helps thousands of Florida seniors sign up for Medicare will be funded for another year.
Congress approved funding for the agency in the $1.3 billion federal spending bill. The program, known in Florida as Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, was going to run out of money on March 31.
This year, the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs will get $49.1 million, compared to $47.1 million last year.
That means Florida's share, which was $2.8 million last year, could increase this year, said Kyrie-Leigh Chambliss with SHINE in Hillsborough County
Had the funding not come through, Chambliss said she was preparing for some difficult conversations.
“I would have had to start telling seniors who were calling us for help that there was nothing we could do for them,” Chambliss said. “That was something that I had nightmares about and was really dreading.”
But the program may be in the same situation next year. President Trump released his budget proposal for 2019 and it eliminates funds for the agency.
Chambliss said it’s hard to budget year-to-year when she’s not sure if funding will come through.
Roughly 10,000 adults become eligible for Medicare every day, Chambliss said.
“We’re trying to plan for those needs of those tens of thousands of people that are aging into Medicare and need help navigating these programs and we’re trying to do it with a smaller budget or no budget at all.”
SHINE coordinates with hundreds of volunteers in 11 regions around the state to help seniors navigate the more than 14,000 combinations of Medicare plan choices.
They serve older adults who don’t have access to computers or those who need help navigating the websites. Many are on fixed incomes or live in rural areas.
Without SHINE, seniors could be on their own to make decisions that could affect the doctors they can access or the cost of their medications.