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Close the Social Security Claiming Delay Medicare Trap: Hearing Witness to Congress

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Congress should help keep older workers from making painful Medicare Part B enrollment mistakes, a Medicare enrollee advocate said today at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the federal agency in charge of helping people sign up for Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare health benefits.

Fred Riccardi told lawmakers that, today, SSA enrolls many people who retire at age 65 in traditional Medicare Part A hospitalization coverage and Medicare B outpatient and physician services coverage automatically, when those people start claiming Social Security benefits.

But the trend toward workers working past age 65, and putting off the time when they collect Social Security benefits, has broken that system and saddled hundreds of thousands of retirees with extra-high Medicare premium bills, Riccardi said.

Resources

  • Links to hearing resources, including a video recording of the hearing, are available here.
  • The H.R. 2477 Congress.gov tracking page is available here.
  • An article by a compliance specialist on issues facing active employees who have reached the Medicare eligibility age is available here.

Today, Riccardi said, even most workers who do work past age 65 end up getting Medicare Part A coverage automatically.

“Enrollment in Part B is much more complicated,” Riccardi said.

People who work past age 65 and stay in their employers’ health plans may have no idea whether they’re supposed to sign up for Medicare Part B coverage, and even employers’ benefits people may not be clear on what the rules are, Riccardi said.

“Mistakes are indeed very high,” Riccardi said.

Consumers who put off signing up for Medicare Part B coverage are supposed to pay a 10% penalty for each year of delay.

Lack of awareness of the Medicare Part B late enrollment penalty is especially painful now, because more workers are working past age 65 and learning that they can increase monthly benefits by putting off collecting Social Security retirement income benefits, Riccardi said. The percentage of eligible people who started collecting Social Security benefits by age 65 fell to 60% in 2016, from 92% in 2002, Riccardi said.

The result is that 760,000 people are now paying the Medicare Part B penalty, and the penalty is increasing those people’s Medicare Part B premium bills by an average of about 30%, Riccardi said.

Riccardi, president of the Medicare Rights Center, appeared at a House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee hearing on improving health coverage and health outcomes.

The hearing was streamed live on the web.

 H.R. 2477, the BENES Act Bill

Riccardi said Congress can close consumers’ Medicare Part B awareness gap by passing H.R. 2477, the “Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification Act of 2019” (BENES) bill.

The 10-page BENES bill would require the SSA to include notices about how Medicare enrollment works in the Social Security benefits statements sent to individuals ages 60 to 65.

The bill would also update Medicare Part B enrollment period and effective-date-of-coverage rules.

The notice section calls for the SSA to develop the Medicare enrollment notice language in conjunction with a number of different groups, including state insurance commissioners and Affordable Care Act public exchange programs.

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., introduced the bill. The bill has five Democratic sponsors and cosponsors, including Ruiz, and six Republican cosponsors.

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