A study by the KFF found that, on average, just 13 percent of enrollees voluntarily switched their drug or Medicare Advantage plans -- but that nearly half of those who did switch plans saved at least 5 percent the following year, mainly on premiums.

SHIPs also helped nearly 1.3 million low-income seniors with Medicare enrollment last year, according to MRC. Much of that work was focused on options to save money on premiums, such as Extra Help, which often covers up to 75 percent of prescription drug costs.

About 1.2 million low-income beneficiaries who qualified for Extra Help were enrolled in higher-cost Part D plans last year, according to KFF, a sure sign that greater outreach and assistance is needed.

SHIPs also help with enrollment in Medigap plans, which help cover gaps in traditional Medicare such as co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles. They also can help seniors make sure they enroll on time, avoiding costly late enrollment penalties.

The budget cuts approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee were part of a broader move to increase funding in some areas where dollars are needed. All told, $2 billion would be shifted to the National Institutes of Health, and used to restore year-round Pell Grants for college students, and to increase resources to prevent and treat opioid abuse.

"Our understanding is that some tough decisions were made," said Stacy Sanders, federal policy director at MRC. "It's the product of a tight budget environment."

SHIP funding actually has declined against inflation -- spending for fiscal 2017 would be just over $66 million if it had kept up with inflation, according to the National Council on Aging.

A vote by the Senate is not expected until this fall, and the House of Representatives has yet to weigh in. Here is hoping that Congress can somehow right the SHIP.

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