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Q. When I was 65, I chose not to enroll in Medicare Part B. Can I enroll in Part B at another time?

A. The annual enrollment period for Medicare Part B is Jan. 1 until March 31 each year. If you enroll during this time, your Medicare Part B coverage will begin July 1 of the same year.

Because you chose to not enroll in Medicare Part B when you were first eligible, you will have to pay an extra 10 percent of the Part B premium for each 12-month period you were eligible for Medicare Part B and were not enrolled. For example, Mr. Smith’s Initial Enrollment Period ended Sept. 30, 2009. He waited to sign up for Part B until the General Enrollment Period in March 2012. His Part B premium penalty is 20 percent. Because Mr. Smith waited a total of 30 months to sign up, this included only two full 12-month periods.

You may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period and avoid this penalty, if you have been covered by you or your spouse’s current employer health insurance and enroll in Medicare Part B within 63 days of losing employer insurance.

Q. I heard that the Medicare Part B premium might cost as much as $247 per month by 2014 because of the Affordable Care Act. Is this true?

A. With all the information available about Medicare, it can sometimes be hard to separate the fact from fiction. The Affordable Care Act has not made any changes to how the Medicare Part B premium is calculated each year. The amount of the Part B premium is calculated each year based on health care costs from the previous year. For most individuals, the government pays 75 percent of this calculated premium, while beneficiaries are responsible for 25 percent.

In fact, the Affordable Care Act is more likely to reduce the possible cost of future premiums through the required health reforms intended to decrease fraud, waste and abuse, help reduce unnecessary hospital re-admissions and the cost savings of delivery system reforms. A law passed before the Affordable Care Act does affect the Medicare Part B premiums paid by Medicare beneficiaries who have annual income of more than $85,000. The higher the income, the more an individual pays in monthly premiums. This affects only 5 percent of people on Medicare. When you hear information that seems alarming, be sure to get a second opinion — the facts may be different from what is being stated.

Send questions about Medicare or Medicaid to SHIP Program c/o Adult Resource Alliance, 1505 Avenue D, Billings, MT 59102, or helenh@allianceyc.org. Questions are answered by the local State Health Insurance Assistance Program, a service sponsored by Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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