SHIIP gears up to help seniors save during open enrollment season

With open enrollment for Medicare beginning on Oct. 15, UnityPoint Health Marshalltown is taking strides to educate those eligible for Medicare on their available options through the Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP).

Bobbi Brandenburg, a former nurse and one of Marshalltown’s six volunteer SHIIP counselors, said it is an Iowa Insurance Division program, and it has been managed by the hospital for about 30 years throughout its several ownership changes. Their primary goal has remained the same over the years — making Medicare less intimidating.

At an appointment, a SHIIP counselor lays out the different coverage options available for individuals who are applying for Medicare, or who have reached the retirement age of 65, and attempt to make the whole sign-up process a little simpler.

“Our purpose is to educate and answer questions. All of our counseling is confidential and we can’t make decisions. We can’t encourage people to buy one product or another. We have to maintain our neutrality,” Brandenburg said.

Brandenburg said that as seniors approach the need for Medicare, they are often “inundated” with information through mail, phone calls and emails, so much so that by the time they visit SHIIP staff, they are “totally confused,” but that confusion is hopefully eased after a visit with counselors.

A full visit consists of two appointments. At the first, a counselor goes over coverage options with the person and provides information to look through and study. After they have had time to think it over and discuss their options with family and friends, they can make a second appointment where the counselor will enroll them in the selected coverage plan.

Brandenburg feels that SHIIP is an important program for many reasons, but especially because it helps to educate Medicare clients.

“We can save people money. The most money that I have saved somebody for one year of medicine is $40,000. For one year. Granted, that’s the extreme, most of them are $100, maybe three or four hundred, but it’s not unusual at all to save people a significant amount of money,” Brandenburg said.

SHIIP can come in handy, especially for people with family members who will be moving into a nursing home, according to Brandenburg. Some prescription drug insurance policies don’t cover the contract pharmacies at certain nursing homes, and Brandeburg said it’s in those situations that SHIIP helps save the most money by finding the right plan for people.

The goal is for SHIIP to see at least 10 percent of eligible clients in their particular county, and last year, Marshalltown counselors saw 21 percent of the eligible population. Brandenburg said SHIIP is available in 91 counties throughout Iowa, and the program saved clients $21 million last year alone. The Marshalltown branch managed to save almost $1 million for Marshall County clients.

Open enrollment starts on Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7, and appointments with SHIIP counselors can be made as soon as Oct. 17 with one of Marshalltown’s six volunteer counselors — Brandenburg, Jeff Harriss, Diane Oleson, Elaine Hoffman, Larry Schrum or Marilee Lawler.

Brandenburg encourages interested individuals to sign up early for the free appointments by calling their message line at (641) 754-5399, as their schedules tend to fill up quickly.

There are also three counselors in the Tama-Toledo area — Denise Fletcher, Sue Hughes and Kim Nelson.

“At some point, some of the counselors will add more hours so we can get them in. We would like to see as many people as we can,” Brandenburg said. “This would be a good year to do it, because a lot of the premiums are dropping, so hopefully we can save people a lot of money this year.”

Marshalltown SHIIP appointments will be held in the office space formerly occupied by Iowa Heart in the UnityPoint Health-owned building that houses McFarland Clinic.

For those interested in learning more about Medicare in general, SHIIP also hosts a Welcome to Medicare seminar twice a year and there is one coming up just a few days before open enrollment starts. This seminar will be the first one held since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be hosted from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 11 at the new hospital.

The seminar covers the many ins and outs of Medicare Parts A and B, prescription drug benefits, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement Insurance, and it also covers the variations of Medicare available for veterans and state employees, among other things.

It will be held in conference rooms two and three, which are located through the clinic entrance at the north end of the new hospital at 51 UnityPoint Way. This seminar is completely free, but Brandenburg does ask that those interested pre-register for the event so they know how many people to expect. Those interested can call (641) 754-5399 to register. The registration deadline is Oct. 3.

“I think (the seminar) gives a great overview, but to get to the specifics for the individual client and their individual situation, whether that be economics or health issues, or employer issues, all of those, the one on one is better,” Brandenburg said.

For more information about the SHIIP program, visit https://www.unitypoint.org/marshalltown/shiip.aspx.


Contact Susanna Meyer

at 641-753-6611 or



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