Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) is a free program that offers Medicare insurance advice. To become a SHIIP volunteer counselor there is some training involved, however having a life and health insurance license is not one required. Wait, what? Do you go to your car mechanic for your routine dental care? No, you go to your dentist who is properly licensed, trained, and has experience doing all things dentistry. Do you go to your doctor to get advice on which homeowners’ insurance you should have? No, you speak with a licensed agent who represents companies.
SHIIP volunteer counselors do not need to do the same annual certification process that a licensed life and health insurance agent does. Nor does a SHIIP volunteer counselor have direct relationships with each insurance company they are giving advice on, which is also concerning.
What are the requirement, to become a licensed independent agent?
- Obtain a life and health insurance license, issued through the state in which they reside. This consists of taking an extensive course and taking a proctored exam that takes about 2 hours to complete. Once this license is obtained there is continuing education that must be done to keep this license. Each state has different requirements for continuing education. Iowa requires 36 hours of continuing education that must be completed every 3 years to renew a life and health insurance license.
- Complete annually the America’s Health Insurance Plans (also known as AHIP) certification. This certification covers the basics of Medicare, different types of Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Plans, eligibility and coverage, marketing, and enrollment requirements. This certification exam takes about 2 hours to complete.
- Become appointed with each insurance company they wish to represent and help a consumer with. Each insurance company that does Medicare Advantage and/or Part D Prescription Drug Plans also has their own annual certifications that must be completed to represent the company. Each of these trainings discusses what their plans entail.
Not only is the above necessary, but each company that does Medicare Advantage plans will also have in person or virtual trainings that will share even more details of their plans and how to help members and potential members with their plan. As a licensed agent, I feel it is very helpful to attend these meetings, which I do. I get to know who to contact at each company should there ever be claims issues or assistance needed to connect a member to receive care. (I have never met any SHIIP volunteer counselors at these meetings).
As an independent licensed agent, I can give you feedback on what you can expect from a Medicare Advantage plan and Part D Prescription Drug Plan company with regards to customer service, ease of working with said company, how you can easily view your ID card with the company anytime, how you can easily reach if needed, etc. I will also show how to best compare Medicare Supplement plans.
It is nice that there is no charge from SHIIP volunteer counselors; however, you should also expect not to be charged from a licensed agent. SHIIP volunteer counselors, while they will give insurance advice, may not give the most accurate advice. A SHIIP volunteer counselor also won’t be able to help with any claims issues or assist with any matters related to an insurance company or plan they are recommending, nor will they know who to contact to escalate any situation with a company because they don’t have direct relationships with insurance companies to best help people in real situations.
I have honestly seen incorrect advice given by SHIIP volunteer counselors on multiple occasions. To name a few- A situation where a fairly expensive medication wasn’t covered by the Part D Prescription Drug Plan the SHIIP volunteer counselor was advising the individual to go with. The medication in this case was covered by another plan and would have been a much better fit for the consumer. In other situations, I have seen SHIIP counselors advise against Medicare Advantage plans entirely – Are Medicare Advantage plans the right fit for everyone, no. But I feel, if explained properly, understanding what exactly the insurance company offers with a Medicare Advantage plan, they can be a great option to limit what an individual will pay in medical bills. If SHIIP is supposed to be unbiased, then the SHIIP counselor shouldn’t advise to universally avoid a type of plan.
Feel free to visit with a SHIIP volunteer counselor; however, I would encourage you to take their advice with a grain of salt.
One last note – A SHIIP counselor will not send you updates regarding Medicare and keep you informed on your specific plans. Because they aren’t licensed agents, they don’t have any way to help you specifically with any possible claims issues or help you get things expedited with any company.