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Each state and four territories operate State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) to provide free Medicare counseling to eligible beneficiaries, as well as a variety of other services that vary by state. SHIPs rely largely on certified Medicare counselors that either volunteer directly with SHIPs or are affiliated with a wide array of community partner organizations. In most states, volunteers and program activities are managed by small teams of dedicated staff. Idaho’s SHIP is the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) Program. The Idaho Department of Insurance (DOI) partnered with Idaho Policy Institute (IPI) to conduct a study on the effectiveness of the SHIBA program. This report analyzes four aspects of Idaho’s SHIBA program: program operations, certified Medicare counselor and volunteer management, marketing and outreach, and community partnerships. Data was collected through a variety of methods including surveys with Medicare counselors and past SHIBA beneficiaries and interviews with SHIP staff in other states, Idaho SHIBA staff, and community partner organizations.

SHIPs across the country were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with the loss of significant numbers of volunteers and community partners. At a time when SHIP staff are struggling to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the main takeaway from this research is that SHIPs are supported by a network of staff and volunteers who are committed to providing services that are needed by Medicare eligible Americans. This workforce of staff and volunteers is working to rebuild SHIPs into programs equipped to meet the needs of a growing Medicare eligible population. The goal of this research is to provide Idaho’s SHIBA program and SHIPs across the country with quantitative and qualitative information to help determine how to most effectively offer services, implement certified Medicare counselor and volunteer management, conduct marketing and outreach, and build strong relationships with community partners. Incorporating the best practices listed at the end of each section of this report may lead to enhancing the overall effectiveness of the SHIBA program, more volunteers and community partners, and an increase in annual beneficiary contact forms (BCFs).

Key Takeaways:

  • SHIPs are supported by dedicated staff and volunteers who are integral to the success of the program. Providing a greater variety of volunteer opportunities could help Idaho’s SHIBA program increase the accessibility of volunteering for more folks.
  • Word of mouth outreach and referrals from other organizations are the primary way both beneficiaries and volunteers find out about SHIBA. Both are necessary to increase brand recognition and rebuild previous community partnerships.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in significant declines in certified Medicare counselors, volunteers, and community partners for Idaho’s SHIBA program and most states interviewed for this report.
  • Increasing the annual number of BCFs relies on recruiting more certified Medicare counselors and building more formal community partnerships.
  • It would be beneficial to continue providing both in-person and phone counseling options that are currently available, while developing a plan to expand virtual counseling options to meet the demand of new retirees and increase resources in languages other than English.


This report was prepared by Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University and commissioned by the Idaho Department of Insurance.