Government Medicare Help Lines and Websites

By Patricia Barry

Copyright © 2015 AARP

The go-to sources for Medicare help provided by federal and state governments are the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), and the Eldercare Locator.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

CMS is the federal agency that runs Medicare (under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and oversees Medicaid in partnership with the states. It provides updated information and direct help to consumers in English and Spanish in the following ways:

  • The Medicare & You handbook goes out to everyone on Medicare every September. This basic overview of Medicare services includes brief details of the Medicare Advantage health plans and the stand-alone Part D drug plans that will be available in your area for the following year.

  • Medicare’s toll-free help line at 800-633-4227 (or TTY 877-486-2048) is available 24/7. The folks on the other end of the line can answer your questions and give you help on many Medicare issues. If neither English nor Spanish is your first language, you can ask for an interpreter; more than 70 languages are available.

  • Medicare’s website offers a huge amount of information. Go to this site to compare Part D drug plans, Medicare Advantage health plans, hospitals, and nursing homes; to find doctors who accept Medicare; and to read fact sheets on many Medicare services.

The Social Security Administration

SSA is the federal agency that administers not only Social Security benefits but also certain aspects of the Medicare program. Call SSA toll-free at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) or check out its website for information on getting Social Security disability and retirement benefits, enrolling in Medicare Part A and/or B, understanding the higher-income Part B and D premium surcharges, and applying for Part D’s Extra Help program.

You can read the SSA website in Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese, as well as English. To choose a language, click on the “Other languages” button at the top of the home page. You can also ask for an interpreter in any language when you call the help line or when you arrange to visit a local Social Security office.

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs

SHIPs (State Health Insurance Assistance Programs) are valuable resources for anyone who needs help with Medicare or Medicaid issues. They provide personal help from trained counselors free of charge when you’re trying to find a Part D drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan that meets your needs, apply for Medicaid or Extra Help, make an appeal, or resolve a variety of other problems. If English isn’t your first language, they can provide interpreters or refer you to local organizations that offer counseling in your own language.

SHIPs, which are funded by the federal and state governments, are available in every state, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The programs have different names in some states (for example, HICAP in California and SHINE in Florida). The following list includes every program, its name, the state agency that runs it, a toll-free telephone number (except for Washington, D.C., and the territories, which have local numbers) and a hyperlink to the web address.

If the phone number you call isn’t working, contact the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.

Alabama: SHIP, Department of Senior Services, Montgomery, AL. Phone: 800-243-5463.

Alaska: SHIP, Department of Health and Social Services, Anchorage, AK. Phone: 800-478-6065 (TTY: 907-269-3691).

Arizona: SHIP, Division of Aging and Adult Services, Phoenix, AZ. Phone: 800-432-4040.

Arkansas: SHIP, State Insurance Department, Little Rock, AR. Phone: 800-224-6330 (TTY: 501-683-4468).

California: HICAP, Department of Aging, Sacramento, CA. Phone: 800-434-0222.

Colorado: SHIP, Division of Insurance, Denver, CO. Phone: 888-696-7213 (TTY: 303-894-7880).

Connecticut: CHOICES, Department of Social Services, Hartford, CT. Phone: 800-994-9422 (TTY: 800-842-4524).

Delaware: DMAB, Insurance Department, Dover, DE. Phone: 800-336-9500.

District of Columbia: Health Insurance Counseling Project, George Washington University, Washington, DC. Phone: 202-994-6272 (TTY: 202-994-6656).

Florida: SHINE, Department of Elder Affairs, Tallahassee, FL. Phone: 800-963-5337 (TTY: 800-955-8771).

Georgia: Georgia Cares, Division of Aging Services, Atlanta, GA. Phone: 866-552-4464 (TTY: 404-657-1929).

Guam: Division of Senior Citizens, Department of Public Health and Social Services, Hagatna, Guam. Phone: 671-735-7011 or 671-735-7382 (TTY: 671-735-7415).

Hawaii: SAGE Plus, Executive Office on Aging, Honolulu, HI. Phone: 888-875-9229 (TTY: 866-810-4379).

Idaho: SHIBA, Department of Insurance, Boise, ID. Phone: 800-247-4422.

Illinois: SHIP, Department of Aging, Springfield, IL. Phone: 800-252-8966 (TTY: 888-206-1327).

Indiana: SHIP, Department of Insurance, Indianapolis, IN. Phone: 800-452-4800 (TTY: 866-846-0139).

Iowa: SHIIP, Insurance Division, Des Moines, IA. Phone: 800-351-4664 (TTY: 800-735-2942).

Kansas: SHICK, Kansas Commission on Aging, Topeka, KS. Phone: 800-860-5260.

Kentucky: SHIP, Department of Aging and Independent Living, Frankfort, KY. Phone: 877-293-7447.

Louisiana: SHIIP, Department of Insurance, Baton Rouge, LA. Phone: 800-259-5300.

Maine: SHIP, Aging & Disability Services, Augusta, ME. Phone: 800-262-2232.

Maryland: SHIP, Department of Aging, Baltimore, MD. Phone: 800-243-3425.

Massachusetts: SHINE, Executive Office of Elder Affairs, Boston, MA. Phone: 800-243-4636 (TTY: 800-872-0166).

Michigan: MMAP, Office of Services to the Aging, Lansing, MI. Phone: 800-803-7174.

Minnesota: SHIP, Minnesota Board on Aging, St. Paul, MN. Phone: 800-333-2433.

Mississippi: MICAP, Division of Aging and Adult Services, Jackson, MS. Phone: 800-948-3090.

Missouri: CLAIM, Columbia, MO. Phone: 800-390-3330.

Montana: SHIP, Department of Public Health, Helena, MT. Phone: 800-551-3191.

Nebraska: SHIIP, Department of Insurance, Lincoln, NE. Phone: 800-234-7119 (TTY: 800-833-7352).

Nevada: SHIP, Aging and Disability Services Division, Las Vegas, NV. Phone: 800-307-4444.

New Hampshire: NH ServiceLink Resource Center, Laconia, NH. Phone: 866-634-9412 (TTY: 800-735-2964).

New Jersey: SHIP, Department of Human Services, Trenton, NJ. Phone: 800-792-8820.

New Mexico: SHIP, Aging and Long-Term Services Department, Santa Fe, NM. Phone: 800-432-2080.

New York: HIICAP, State Office for the Aging, Albany, NY. Phone: 800-701-0501.

North Carolina: SHIIP, Department of Insurance, Raleigh, NC. Phone: 855-408-1212.

North Dakota: SHIC, Insurance Department, Bismarck, ND. Phone: 888-575-6611.

Ohio: OSHIIP, Department of Insurance, Columbus, OH. Phone: 800-686-1578.

Oklahoma: SHIP, Insurance Department, Oklahoma City, OK. Phone: 800-763-2828.

Oregon: SHIBA, Oregon Insurance Division, Salem, OR. Phone: 800-722-4134.

Pennsylvania: APPRISE, Department of Aging, Harrisburg, PA. Phone: 800-783-7067.

Puerto Rico: SHIP Office of the Ombudsman, San Juan, PR. Phone: 877-725-4300.

Rhode Island: SHIP, Division of Elderly Affairs, Cranston, RI. Phone: 401-462-0510 (TTY: 401-462-0740).

South Carolina: I-CARE, Office on Aging, Columbia, SC. Phone: 800-868-9095.

South Dakota: SHIINE, Department of Social Services, Sioux Falls, SD. Phone: 800-536-8197.

Tennessee: SHIP, Commission on Aging & Disability, Nashville, TN. Phone: 877-801-0044 (TTY: 615-532-3893).

Texas: HICAP, Department of Aging and Disability Services, Austin, TX. Phone: 800-252-9240 (TTY: 800-735-2989).

Utah: SHIIP, Division of Aging and Adult Services, Salt Lake City, UT. Phone: 800-541-7735.

Vermont: SHIP, Area Agency on Aging, St. Johnsbury, VT. Phone: 800-642-5119.

Virgin Islands: VI SHIP, Christiansted, VI. Phone: 340-772-7368 (St. Croix); 340-714-4354 (St. Thomas/St. John).

Virginia: VICAP, Division for the Aging, Richmond, VA. Phone: 800-552-3402 (TTY: 804-552-3402).

Washington: SHIBA, Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Olympia, WA. Phone: 800-562-6900 (TTY: 360-586-0241).

West Virginia: WVSHIP, Bureau of Senior Services, Charleston, WV. Phone: 877-987-4463.

Wisconsin: SHIP, Department of Health Services, Madison, WI. Phone: 800-242-1060.

Wyoming: WSHIIP, Wyoming Senior Citizens, Inc., Riverton, WY. Phone: 800-856-4398.

The Eldercare Locator

The Eldercare Locator is a free public service run by the U.S. Administration on Aging. It acts as a national clearinghouse for Americans 60 and older to find help and resources in their own communities. It can connect you to local agencies and organizations that provide many different kinds of services and assistance programs, typically those that help people continue to function at home or in their communities as they age.

To contact the Eldercare Locator, call 800-677-1116 (toll-free) Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. eastern time. The Language Line can handle 150 languages. You can also access it online; this site has links to many other sites with information on community resources.