For Consumers

Renowned Washington state consumer program celebrates 45th anniversary

Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors served as model for national outreach effort

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February 15, 2024

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A small volunteer effort that started in Mount Vernon and grew into one of the nation’s most popular senior customer assistance programs is celebrating 45 years of work.

The Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program, part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC), has spent more than 40 years providing hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in Washington state with free, unbiased and confidential counseling services. 

SHIBA helps people in every corner of the state with questions about enrolling in Medicare, switching plans, getting prescription drug help and reporting Medicare fraud. 

“People will stop to thank me for the SHIBA program and tell me how it has helped them or a loved one,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It saved some people money on their health insurance and it helped some people find the right health coverage. I’m incredibly proud of the work they’ve been doing for more than four decades to support seniors in our state.” 

In 1976, a group of Mount Vernon volunteers acquired funding as part of a pilot program to help counsel senior citizens on health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. The OIC noticed and Dick Marquardt — state insurance commissioner at the time — officially endorsed SHIBA in 1979, establishing the program as a statewide effort.  

SHIBA’s impact grew in the eyes of senior health advocates and consumers across the state. In 1990, it inspired the federal government to create the national State Health Insurance Assistance Programs. The federal program provides seniors with health insurance assistance in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The people who choose to become a SHIBA volunteer find great meaning and satisfaction helping others in their community,” said Tim Smolen, SHIBA Program Director. “Many of the people who contact us are struggling to understand their Medicare options and feel overwhelmed. It’s empowering to our volunteers — who are also Medicare-age — to feel they made a difference in someone’s life. It’s a win for both parties.”

The OIC is hosting several SHIBA events across the state this year to recognize the journey over the last 45 years. This includes celebrating the current 250 dedicated volunteers and their organizations, who are at the heart of the program’s success. 

Find out more information about SHIBA, its volunteer program and the anniversary celebration.


The SHIBA program provides information on all the parts of Medicare, Medigap (Medicare Supplement) and Medicare Advantage plans, Medicaid programs, employment-related health benefits, long-term care options, fraud and abuse, and much more. We answer questions, make referrals, help evaluate and compare health insurance policies, make public presentations, and more. For people getting ready to enroll in Medicare or those already on Medicare who have questions, can call SHIBA at 800-562-6900 or contact us online.

Editors: If you’re interested in speaking with a local SHIBA sponsor organization or volunteer in your community, please contact our office.