HELP LINE: SHIBA needs volunteers like you

WHAT’S THE ONE thing that drives every single one of us uniformly nuts, no matter what?

Well … OK, what’s one of the things that drives every one of us nuts?

Right. Health insurance.

I don’t care if it’s Medicare, TriCare, Medicare Supplements, Part D, private, Medicaid, Indian Health or … and I don’t care if you even like your health insurance or that it (hard to believe as this might be) actually works well.

Don’t try to tell me that it doesn’t make you crazy.

OK, I acknowledge there are a few genetic anomalies among us who actually understand health insurance: They can read page after page of documents written by attorneys for attorneys, then successfully decipher the hidden meaning and even suggest (with reasonable accuracy) what it might have to do with our bodies.

But for most of us, health insurance creates more sickness (e.g., migraines, stress, depression, paranoia, etc.) than it alleviates.

Thus, most of us dutifully peruse policies, forms, explanations of benefits, etc., ad infinitum, nod knowingly, then file them away under “Things to Understand Someday,” choosing a more attractive means of structuring our day, such as taking care of hangnails or dishpan hands.

Which is probably OK until it isn’t OK, because somebody didn’t pay for something that you didn’t know you had, didn’t have or didn’t want to have, or you have to appeal some decision made by somebody somewhere or navigate a phone tree with 2,000 to 3,000 different options or choose between a multitude of Part D plans (again) or generally try to navigate anything related to health insurance, which is when you fully realize that you are totally A-L-O-N-E.

I know. Me, too.

So I’m going to give you an opportunity to have a little fun while having absolutely no fun at all.

I’m going to ask you to become a SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors) volunteer because we (I) desperately need your help.

You, along with compatriot genetic anomalies, will get trained until your head hurts by the insurance commissioner’s office to be able to help folks assess what coverage they need, compare policies and programs, discuss the pros and cons of the options, and actually understand what they’re looking at.

You’ll learn about health care access, prescription drug coverage, government health benefits, individual and group policies (including Medicare) until the wayward cows come home, and will then be allowed to use what you learn for a) yourself, b) your family, c) people you like and d) a whole lot of other people who really need people like you.

It isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everybody.

If you don’t care for detail, don’t like to solve puzzles, have a short attention span or are, in fact, an attorney who can’t figure out why everybody else isn’t, this is probably not the best idea you’ve ever had.

But if you like to analyze, to understand and to help other people do both of those, then you might be who I’m looking for.

The training is extensive.

It will take multiple days filled with multiple hours, and other than good people and a few munchies, all you’ll get is smarter. (Hey, I haven’t lied to you in all these years, so I’m not going to start now).

But smarter isn’t a bad thing to get.

And helping folks who need, want and appreciate that help isn’t a bad thing to do.

What do you do?

You call the undisputed queen of SHIBA, Margie Stewart, at 360-417-8555 or 800-801-0070 and talk it over.

She won’t lie to you, either.

And what have you got to lose, besides several days, sleep and the peace of mind that comes with ignorance?

And so what? You’re a genetic anomaly, anyway.

I know. Me, too.


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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