Staff from the Medicare Rights Center presented on the opioid crisis and Medicare coverage of substance use disorder treatment at the 2019 Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) and State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) National Conference. SMPs and SHIPs are state-based agencies that assist people with Medicare and their caregivers. SMPs empower people with Medicare to prevent, detect, and report health care fraud, while SHIPs provide local and unbiased Medicare counseling. As a partner of the SHIP Technical Assistance Center, Medicare Rights provides ongoing technical assistance and training for SHIP counselors throughout the nation.
At this year’s conference, Medicare Rights Senior Counsel for Education and Federal Policy Casey Schwarz and Education Coordinator Emily Whicheloe co-led a training session with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the West Virginia SHIP about the opioid crisis. NCOA and West Virginia SHIP representatives presented survey data and stories from the field that demonstrate how people with Medicare are affected by the opioid crisis. Schwarz and Whicheloe then explained what services Medicare covers—and does not cover—to treat substance use disorders. They outlined policies that Medicare has put in place to address potential opioid misuse, including safety checks at the pharmacy and drug management programs for certain at-risk beneficiaries. Schwarz also spoke about possible policy changes, such as expanded Medicare coverage for medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders.
SHIP and SMP counselors learned how to recognize opioid coverage problems and help people with Medicare navigate access barriers and troubleshoot possible solutions. The presentation provided the opportunity to educate the SHIP and SMP network on a timely and critical topic.