Getting Answers About Your Medicare Supplement

Elderly man picking a medicine bottle from a shelf

A SHIP Counselor or Medicare Broker can help you sort through your many options for Medicare Supplement Insurance to pick the right one for you.

Every fall around open enrollment time, you’re inundated with television ads, mailers and infomercials urging you to sign up for a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan. But with so many options – the average Medicare beneficiary has 24 Advantage Plans to choose from – how do you know you’re making the right decision?

Fortunately, there are experts who can help. SHIP Counselors and Medicare Brokers can help you sort through your options and select an insurance plan that covers your needs, at a price you can afford. But what’s the difference between the two?

SHIP Counselors

Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a free one-on-one counseling service for Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers. In some states, the program is known by a different name (in Michigan, it’s called Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program, or MMAP). Click here to locate a SHIP program near you.

SHIP Counselors are…

  • Free of charge. The program is funded by the government.
  • Volunteers who offer their time to help educate consumers, answer questions about Medicare and Medicare Supplements, and assist in filing Medicare claims.
  • Trained by a sponsoring agency, such as the Illinois Department on Aging.
  • Neutral. They do not work for an insurance company, so they are not incentivized to sway you one way or another. They are also prohibited from recommending any policy or plan.
  • Not licensed agents. They cannot sell you an insurance plan or write a policy application for you.

Medicare Brokers

Medicare Brokers – sometimes also called independent agents, advisers, or planners – are licensed sales agents who specialize in Medicare insurance products. These are likely the companies that you see advertised on TV.

Medicare Brokers are…

  • Licensed agents who can write your policy application once you’ve decided on a plan.
  • Commission-based. Agents can either be “captive” (working for one insurance company) or “independent” (working with many different companies). Either way, they earn a commission from the insurance company whose plan you choose.
  • Certified. All agents must pass the annual American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) exam in order to sell policies, and many also have additional training regarding the plans they represent.
  • Subject to oversight and can lose their state licensure if they don’t comply with the rules related to selling and enrolling beneficiaries in Medicare plans.

What to Bring

Many enrollees choose to consult with a SHIP counselor before meeting with a broker. Before you sit down for a meeting with either one, be sure to gather together some important information to help with your decision:

  1. A list of current medications
  2. Recent health history, including any hospitalizations
  3. A copy of your current health insurance policy

The free Health Information Kit download from Providence Life Services is a handy tool to gather all of your important medical information in one convenient spot.

Lunch and Learn

Several Providence Life Services communities are hosting upcoming lunch and learns about the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. You’re encouraged to bring your smartphone or tablet and prescription list, and a Medicare Planner will help you navigate the website so you can get the maximum benefit.

Wednesday, April 3, 10:00 a.m.

Park Place of St. John
10700 Park Place, St. John, Indiana, 46373
RSVP by March 27 to or (219) 351-5200

Wednesday, April 10, 11:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Victorian Courts Community Center
14303 S. Independence Way, Homer Glen, Illinois, 60491
Hosted by Victorian Village
RSVP by April 1 to or (708) 301-0800

Wednesday, April 24, 10:00 a.m.

Village Woods
2681 Route 394, Crete, Illinois, 60417
RSVP by April 15 to or (708) 414-2006

Wednesday, May 1, 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Saratoga Grove
3460 Saratoga Avenue, Downers Grove, Illinois, 60515
RSVP by April 26 to or (630) 971-1995