HELP LINE: SHIBA are here to help with health insurance

LAST WEEK WAS a long time ago, right?

I know, so you might or might not recall that I went on about Medicare, which is something I go on about a lot.

As I was doing that, I could hear the audible sigh (or, in some cases, gasp) throughout the land that the subject of Medicare almost always produces.

In fact, that’s the reaction that usually accompanies any reference to any kind of health insurance, which seems muted in comparison to people running from the room or turning openly hostile.

Why? Because almost all of us hate health insurance.

Why? Well, several dozen reasons leap to mind, but the most universal is simply this: We hate it because we don’t understand it.

We get lost in the labyrinth of premiums, deductibles, co-pays, pre-authorizations, networks, tiers and where-fors and there-fors.

What? Maybe something is covered, depending upon what, when and (sometimes) where.

Or, maybe something is covered … kinda. To a point.

Partly — assuming you were only partly ill or injured.

It defies logic, it’s a moving target and it’s often about as human-friendly as the instructions that come with electronic devices.

Oh, right. We have no clue, so we hate it.

And because of all of that, most of us would love to have some help understanding and navigating it, if there was just somebody we could trust and who wouldn’t be trying to sell us something.

There is. They are referred to as Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (“SHIBA” if you’re acronym prone).

These folks are genetic anomalies: They actually understand health insurance.

Further, they are mostly volunteers, which means they do this for free — because they care — and have absolutely nothing to sell.

I know these people personally, and I can assure you that they are some of the finest folks I’ve ever had the honor of being associated with.

How do you find them? (This is the part that you want to cut-out and stick on the fridge):

• On the first and third Tuesdays of every month, you can find them at the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St. in Port Townsend, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

• On the second and fourth Tuesdays, look in the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road in Chimacum, between 10 a.m. and noon.

• On the fourth Wednesday of every month, they’ll be in the Quilcene Community Center, 294952 Highway 101 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

• You’ll find SHIBA folks every Tuesday at Shipley Center, 921 E. Hammond St. in Sequim, from 10 a.m. to noon.

• Every Friday at the Port Angeles Senior Center, 328 E. Seventh St. in Port Angeles, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

• The first Wednesday of every month at the Information & Assistance office in Forks, 418 Fifth Ave., right across from the hospital.

But the fact is, you can call 360-374-9496 and get in a whole lot of other times SHIBA are available.

If all else fails, call any of the numbers at the end of this column and say something like “SHIBA” or “health insurance” or anything non-profane that’s close to that and decent people will help you. For free.

That’s it. These folks specialize in Medicare, but I’ve never seen a health insurance-related topic that they wouldn’t take on.

I can hear some of you thinking (because you would never say it out loud, for fear of being socially shunned), “I could do that.”


Are you willing to? Are you willing to be part of the solution?

Are you willing to give away hours out of your life in order to help folks navigate the utterly un-navigable?

If you are, call Marge Stewart at 360-417-8555 and say that. (Don’t worry, she’s one, too, so she won’t laugh at you.)

We need all the help we can get.

That’s it. That’s all there is to say, but I absolutely agree with the other thing you’re thinking: Yes, miracles do happen.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing

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