Houston Health Department
Benefits Counseling Program
The mission of the benefits counseling program is to provide accurate and objective counseling, assistance, and advocacy in relation to public benefits and entitlements. It falls under the State Health Information and Assistance Program (SHIP).
Benefits counseling, as well as all programs funded by the Harris County Area Agency on Aging, are provided to persons 60 years and over, residing in Harris County; however, benefits counseling services, also known as Health, Information, Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), are extended to all Medicare beneficiaries, including those with disabilities, regardless of age under special funds provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that administers Medicare.
Our benefits counselors receive certification as HICAP counselors. They receive training in various services by representatives of the following agencies:
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
- Texas Legal Services Center
- Texas Department of Insurance
- Texas Health and Human Services: Aging Services
- Texas Health and Human Services
- Social Security Administration
- Veterans Administration
Our benefits counselors work with representatives from our partner agencies: Social Security Administration, Texas Department of Health and Human Services, Texas Department of Insurance, Legal Hotline for Older Texans, Medicaid, Medicare, Adult Protective Services, and other Federal, State, Local and community agencies to resolve client issues. For legal services requiring an attorney, the agency contracts with Lone Star Legal Aid.
As mandated by the Older Americans Act, all services provided by the agency are free; however, recipients are provided an opportunity to make voluntary contributions to the program.
The Older Americans Act of 1965 authorizes benefits counseling services to assist older individuals, their family members and/or caregivers in understanding their rights applying for benefits and receiving appropriate referrals exercising choice benefiting from services and opportunities authorized by law, and maintaining the rights of older persons, especially those with reduced capacity, in solving disputes. Counseling is provided in person, via telephone or written correspondence.
Beneficiaries can receive assistance involving the following issues:
- Activities of daily living
- Client representation — appeals or hearings
- Consumer issues
- Fraud/scam/unfair sales
- Individual rights-abuse, dispute, employment, discrimination
- Institutional/facility care
- Long-Term Care insurance
- Managed Care Plans/Medicare+Choice/PFFS/HMOs
- Medigap/Supplemental insurance/Select
- Non-covered health-dental, hearing, assistive devices
- Other types of insurance-individual and group, Cobra
- Other retirement-teacher, railroad, public and private plans
- Social Security
- Surrogate decisions-Advanced directives, guardianship, wills, estates
- Veterans benefits