This column ran about four years ago, but I have been getting some inquiries lately from people who are either working past the age of 65 or who are postponing receiving Social Security retirement benefits until after they turn 66 or older, but want Medicare at 65. It might be time to dust off an old column with some good information and print it again.
Medicare Rights is an excellent website that I routinely access for information on new developments on the Medicare front. A few years ago, it offered an article concerning problems that some beneficiaries are having in successfully signing up for Medicare Part B, in part as a result of inaccurate information.
Medicare Part B is the insurance that seniors use most routinely because it covers the cost of healthcare providers, lab work, supplies like diabetes test strips, and durable medical equipment. It costs most of us $135.50 a month. Persons receiving Social Security a few months before turning 65 will automatically receive their Medicare cards for Part A and Part B about two months prior to their birth month. Persons under 65 who are disabled will receive their cards about two years after they start to receive Social Security.
In my columns, talks, and private meetings, I am very careful to emphasize that persons who turn 65 and are still covered by
health insurance through either their own or a spouse’s employment at a company employing 20 or more workers should not accept or apply for Part B. Doing so could prevent them from being able to purchase a Medicare supplement or Medigap insurance later when the employer coverage ends.
It is important to remember that once you have Part B AND are at least 65 years old, you have a 6-month period starting that first month in which an insurance company cannot deny you supplemental coverage or charge you more because of prior health conditions. After that 6-month period passes, a company can charge you more because of the condition of your health or can refuse to sell you such a policy at all.
Those of us who are not receiving Social Security at age 65 have to sign up for Medicare with the Social Security Administration, the SSA, on-line, by telephone, or in person at a local SSA office. These people are most likely to make a mistake regarding Part B and will be the primary subjects of the rest of my column.
The first fact that you need to know is this: People who do not sign up for Medicare Part B when they are first eligible and who are not covered by healthcare insurance provided by an employer of the beneficiary or a spouse as noted above will be charged a penalty of 10 percent of the Part B premium for each year that they fail to sign up forever. For example: If you fail to sign up for three years, the penalty is 30 percent forever.
The second is that there is no federal agency in charge of alerting people just turning 65 who are not collecting Social Security that they should be assessing their obligations regarding signing up for Part B or explaining what those obligations are. Many employers also do not alert retiring employees of these regulations.
The third fact is that if you have healthcare insurance through employment in a company of fewer than 20 employees, your employer insurance will be secondary to Medicare. That means that you must sign up for Medicare when you turn 65 or face having no insurance because the employer insurance cannot pay secondary to nothing.
The fourth fact is that if you fail to sign up for Medicare after your initial enrollment period of seven months around the month of your 65th birthday, you will have to wait until the general enrollment period from January 1st to March 31st with coverage starting July 1st of the same year. If your 65th birthday is February 18th and you miss your initial enrollment period of November through May, you cannot sign up until January of the following year. Your coverage starts that July.
The fifth and final fact is that health insurance provided through retirement plans, insurance from the open market, or insurance from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will not substitute for Medicare Parts A and B. One client of mine had been assured that her company coverage from the former employer of her deceased husband counted as coverage for her. It did not because he was not currently employed there. She was without Part B coverage for over a year because she did not sign up when she should have.
If you are about to turn 65 in the next few months and want to understand what your rights and responsibilities are regarding signing up for Medicare, you can call the New River Valley Agency on Aging at 540-980-7720 and request an appointment with someone who can explain what you need to do regarding this important issue.