Medicare

How to Enroll in Medicare Part B

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Enroll in Medicare Part B - whether you are just turning 65 or have worked past 65

Enrolling in Medicare Part B – whether you are just turning 65 or have worked past 65

If you are self-employed or retired when you turn 65, signing up for Medicare Part B is a very simple process. You simply go to the Social Security website, www.ssa.gov, and do it on-line. Medicare allows you to enroll in Part B the 3 months before your birthday, the month of your birthday and 3 months after your birthday. This time period is called your Initial Enrollment Period. To ensure they have their Medicare cards as soon as possible I encourage my clients to go on-line to enroll in Part B during the month they are first eligible to apply. Individuals who receive their Social Security checks before 65 are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part B.

Unless your annual income is higher than $80,000 as a single person or $170,000 as a married couple, you will pay $135.50 per month for Part B. If your income is higher than these amounts you will pay more. Unless you are fortunate enough to have worked for a company or government agency which provides lifetime health benefits, your choices are either a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage or a Medicare Supplement and drug plan. Either choice is protection against unlimited medical expenses. To enroll in a Medicare Supplement or Advantage plan you are required to be enrolled in both Medicare Part A and B.

Often people work past 65 (or have a spouse who is working) for a company with 20 or more employees that provides them with health insurance without enrolling in Part B. When these benefits are lost due to retirement, death of a spouse, divorce or layoff, signing up for Part B is more complicated if you are past the Initial Enrollment Period. Any of these scenarios are considered a SEP (Special Election Period). In this type of SEP one must fill out a paper application for Medicare Part B, and Section A of the Request for Employment Information form. Your (or your spouse’s) employer must complete Section B of this form. The Request of Employment Information form Section B is needed to confirm you have had credible health insurance coverage during your employment. This is an important part of the process which will prevent you from being penalized for not enrolling in Part B when you first turned 65.

These forms can be found at your nearest Social Security office or going to their website, www.ssa.gov. Once completed they should be mailed or hand carried to the nearest social security office. For additional information contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

What is the Donut Hole?

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Medicare Donut Hole graphic

If you’re turning 65 or becoming Medicare eligible, one of your challenges is choosing a drug plan. Many are confused by the term “Donut Hole” (also called the Coverage Gap). Medicare Prescription Drug Plans have four parts or phases, Initial Deductible, Initial Coverage, Donut Hole and Catastrophic. To understand the Donut Hole it’s important to understand each of these parts. Read More

Can you change from a Medicare Advantage to a Medicare Supplement?

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Unless someone turning 65 has lifetime health benefits from their or their spouse’s employment, they usually have two choices on how to receive their Medicare coverage. They can enroll in a Medicare Supplement and a separate prescription drug plan or in a Medicare Advantage Plan with drug coverage. If they have drug coverage from previous employment or military service, they also have the option to enroll in only a Medicare Supplement or a Medicare Advantage with no drug coverage.

Typically the premiums for a Medicare Advantage Plan are much lower than a Medicare Supplement. In the Research Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) there are numerous Medicare Advantage Plans that have a zero premium. My experience is that the majority of seniors who sign up for these plans are very satisfied with the benefits and coverage. However, as we all know, life is unpredictable. When your health suddenly takes a turn for the worse having a plan that requires you stay in a network of medical providers or allows you to go out of network, but at a substantially higher cost, can create anxiety. This is why understanding the rules for change are important.

When you first turn 65 you have what is called a “trial right”. This term means you can try Medicare Advantage for one year. At any point during this 12 month period you can drop your Medicare Advantage Plan and return to Original Medicare. Once you drop your Medicare Advantage plan, you have 63 days to enroll in a Medicare Supplement without going through medical underwriting (answering health questions). If you wait longer the insurance companies that market Medicare Supplements will require medical underwriting and can decline you for coverage. You also have 63 days to enroll in a drug plan. If you don’t enroll during the 63 day period you will be required to wait until Annual Enrollment (October 15 through December 7th). The plan you enroll in during this period will not begin until January 1st of the following year. Unless you have a very low income, this will cause you to pay a penalty for going without creditable drug coverage for several months. This penalty will continue as long as you are enrolled in a prescription drug plan.

For folks that are already on a Medicare Supplement there is also a “trial right”. This allows them to drop their Medicare Supplement and try a Medicare Advantage for one year. However, their “trial right” is more restrictive. They can enroll in Medicare Supplement Plans A,B,C,F,K or L without medical underwriting, but the not the popular Plan G.

In 2019 during the Open Enrollment Period, which is from January 1 through March 31, one can change from a Medicare Advantage to a Medicare Supplement and a drug plan. However, unless they are in their first year of Medicare or are enrolled in a plan which is ending, they will be required to go through medical underwriting to obtain a Medicare Supplement.

Sometimes an insurance company will decide to terminate one of their Medicare Advantage plans. This is called a SAR (Service Area Reduction). When this happens they are required to send a letter to each person on this plan. In addition to explaining when the plan will end, the insurance company must provide details on the time period for obtaining new coverage and one’s options during this period. Instead of choosing another Medicare Advantage plan, the policy holders of the terminated plan can choose a Medicare Supplement. This letter is their proof that they are in a “guaranteed issue period”, which allows them to enroll in Medicare Supplement Plans A, B, C, F,K or L without going through medical underwriting.

There are also situations where CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) forces a Medicare Advantage Plan to terminate for not adhering to government rules. This type of termination gives the policy holders the same “guaranteed issue rights” described above.

 

 

 

 

Six Smart Steps for choosing Medicare Insurance that is Right for You

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Choosing Medicare Insurance

Baby Boomers turning 65 in North Carolina have an abundance of choices with regard to their Medicare insurance. My customers who have been buying their own health insurance and don’t qualify for a government subsidy are thrilled to be able to choose from many policies that are much more affordable. Their challenge is sorting through these numerous policies and choosing what is right for their lifestyle, health needs and pocketbook. If you are uncertain which plan or plans are best for you, here is a step by step guide to ensure you make a wise decision: Read More