The Med Diva

An insider's guide to Medicare Part D and more

Archive for the category “Medicare Eligibility”

I just want to know: Do I need Medicare Part B or not?!?!

The other day, my neighbor and dear friend called me in her usual exaggerated state of panic. But this time she wasn’t calling because one of her dogs got loose outside or she ran out eggs while baking a cake. She was worried about whether she would have to sign up for Medicare now that she’s turning 65.  Vicky is retired, but she is covered under her husband’s health and prescription drug benefits, which he gets through his current employer.   

“I just want to know. Do I need Medicare Part B or not?!” Vicky asked me.

“Well,” I told her. “It all depends.”

“Depends ON WHAT?” she moaned. “What am I supposed to do?”

As soon as I started to explain that it all depends on how her current benefits work with Medicare—in other words, whether her husband’s employer insurance will be “primary”  and pay first or “secondary” and pay second—her panic level rose. So let me see if I can make this easier to understand for you and her.

If you are eligible for Medicare and have coverage through your or your spouse’s current job, it’s a no-brainer to at least take Part A (hospital insurance). That’s because for most people, Part A is free. But it’s a lot more complicated to decide whether to take Part B, for which you’ll have to pay a monthly premium.

What I told Vicky to do—and what I suggest you do if you’re in a similar situation—is to speak with someone in the company’s benefits or human resources department before making any decisions concerning Medicare Part B coverage. Ask this person how your employer group insurance works with Medicare and then confirm this information with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Medicare. 

• Some companies will continue to provide primary coverage for employers (and their spouses) as long as the employee is still actively employed.
• Some employers provide only secondary or supplemental coverage for employees (or their spouses) who qualify for Medicare.
• Some employees do not provide any coverage once the employee becomes eligible for Medicare.

By the way, Vicky called to thank me the next day. She told me that she spoke with the benefits manager at her husband’s company, who informed her that she would not have to get Part B as long as her husband was still actively employed. I know that her husband, Roy, plans to retire in about a year, so Vicky will save about $1,300 by delaying Part B until that time.

Reminder: Medicare Open Enrollment is October 15 through December 7.

When to enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan

Today I spent the day monitoring phone calls from my company’s Medicare Part D plan enrollment call center. Several seniors who called to enroll in our plan said they were very confused about the Open Enrollment deadline, especially those people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

To help clear up some of this confusion, here is some basic information about when you can enroll in a Part D plan or switch Part D plans. In a nutshell:

• Most people can enroll in a Part D plan when they first become eligible for Medicare and then once a year after that during Open Enrollment if they want to switch plans.
• People who receive both Medicare and Medicaid can enroll when they first become eligible and then once a month after that if they want to switch plans.

Enrolling for the first time: Turning 65 or new to Medicare

If you are new to Medicare, it’s important to enroll in a Part D plan as soon as you become eligible (during your Initial Enrollment Period) to avoid paying any late-enrollment penalties. When first eligible for Medicare, you have a full 7 months to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan:
• Up to 3 months before you turn 65
• During the month of your 65th birthday
• Up to 3 months after you turn 65

If you join a prescription drug plan during the 3 months before you turn 65, your coverage will start on the first day of your birth month. If you join during or after your birth month, your coverage will begin on the first day of the next month.

Here are 3 examples to show you when your coverage will go into effect:
Let’s assume your 65th birthday is May 3, 2012. That means your Initial Enrollment Period is from February 1 – August 31, 2012 (3 months before to 3 months after your 65th birthday).

1. If you join a Part D plan before your birth month (February 1 – April 30, 2012)
Your coverage will begin the first day of your birth month: May 1, 2012

2. If you join a Part D plan during your birth month (May 1 – May 31, 2012)
Your coverage will begin: June 1, 2012

3. If you join a Part D plan after your birth month (for example, July 1 – July 31, 2012)
Your coverage will begin: August 1, 2012

When you can switch Part D plans

If you are already enrolled in a Part D plan, you can generally switch plans only once a year during Open Enrollment (also called the Annual Election Period). Open Enrollment runs from October 15 through December 7 for the 2012 plan year. Outside this time period, you may make other changes during the year only if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

For example, you may qualify for an SEP for the following reasons:
• You lose creditable coverage (that is, coverage as good as or better than Medicare) through no fault of your own  (for example, your former employer or union stops providing coverage for retirees)
• You move to a new permanent address that is not in your current plan’s service area
• Your current plan no longer offers Part D coverage
• You receive Medicaid or get Extra Help with Part D costs
• You are enrolled in a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP)

Dual Eligibles can switch plans once a month

If you have both Medicare and Medicaid, you are considered a “dual eligible” individual. “Dual eligibles” may change plans once every thirty days. You can ignore the Open Enrollment dates and the December 7th deadline because they do not apply to you.

The Countdown to Medicare Part D Open Enrollment Is Over

Open Enrollment for 2012 begins today, October 15, and ends on Wednesday, December 7, 2011.

The 3 eligibility windows for joining or switching Part D plans

Since today is the start of the Annual Coordinated Election Period (or Open Enrollment), I thought I’d give a quick review of the 3 eligibility windows for joining or switching prescription drug plans.

1. Initial Enrollment Period
2. Open Enrollment Period
3. Special Enrollment Period

1. Initial Enrollment Period

If you are turning 65 and newly eligible for Medicare, you have 7 months to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan:

  • Up to 3 full months before you turn 65
  • During the month of your 65th birthday
  • Up to 3 full months after you turn 65

If you join during the 3 months before you turn 65, your coverage will start on the first day of your birthday month. If you join during or after your birthday month, your coverage will begin on the first day of the next month.

For example, let’s say Patricia is going to turn 65 on May 10, 2012. Her eligibility window will be from February 1 to August 31, 2012.  If she enrolls in a plan any time in February, March, or April, her coverage will begin on May 1. If she waits to join on her birthday, her coverage will begin the following month, on June 1.

If you get Medicare due to a disability, you can enroll in a Medicare Part D plan:

  • Up to 3 months before the 25th month of your disability
  • Up to 3 months after your 25th month of disability
  • During your Initial Enrollment Period when you turn 65

2. Open Enrollment Period

If you are already in a Medicare prescription drug plan (PDP) or Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (MA-PD), you can switch to a new Medicare Part D plan during the Open Enrollment Period from October 15 through December 7.

3. Special Enrollment Period

Outside these two windows above, you may only switch plans if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). For example, you may qualify for an SEP for the following reasons:

  • You lose creditable coverage (coverage as good as or better than standard Medicare) through no fault of your own
  • You move to a new permanent address that is not in your current plan’s service area
  • Your current plan no longer offers prescription drug coverage
  • You receive Medicaid or get Extra Help with Part D costs
  • You are enrolled in a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP)

How to avoid a late-enrollment penalty

I talked a lot about the late-enrollment penalty yesterday, but I want to remind you again that if you choose not to enroll in a Part D plan when you first become eligible, Medicare will impose a monthly penalty if you join later. To avoid paying a late-enrollment penalty:

  • Make sure you join a Part D plan during your Initial Enrollment Period.
  • Be sure to enroll in a plan within 63 days of not having a Part D plan or other creditable coverage, such as coverage from:
    • A current or former employer or union
    • TRICARE
    • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Let your new prescription drug plan know within 63 days if you had other creditable coverage (your former plan must send you a letter called “Notice of Creditable Coverage,” which you can use as proof of coverage when you join a new plan).

Countdown to Medicare Part D Open Enrollment: Day 2

Open Enrollment for 2012 begins tomorrow, October 15,
and ends on Wednesday, December 7, 2011.

Day 2: The Medicare Part D Myth Buster–Why you should enroll when you first become eligible

If you’ve ever watched the show Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel, you know the hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman set out to prove–or bust–some of the craziest myths out there. Would a bull do damage in a china shop? Nope, in fact they’ll daintily and nimbly walk among the aisles of breakables. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? You sure can!

So here’s a big myth about Medicare Part D prescription plans that I’m going to dispel for you: “If I don’t use many drugs, or no drugs at all, it’s not worth it for me to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan and pay a monthly premium.”

Busted.  That’s like saying you’re not going to get auto insurance because you’ve never had an accident before.

Unless you have creditable prescription drug coverage through another plan (such as from your former employer or union, TRICARE, or Department of Veterans Affairs), it pays to enroll in a plan and pay the monthly premium.

Here are 3 reasons why you should enroll in a Part D plan when you first become eligible:
1. You can’t put a price on peace of mind
2. You can’t sign up for a plan mid-year
3. You will pay a late-enrollment penalty if you change your mind later

Although you may not use many or even any drugs right now, you never know what your drugs needs are going to be down the road. Sure, you may luck out and never have to take drugs for a chronic condition (such as asthma or diabetes), but what if you were in an accident or had a bad case of the flu and had to take a lot of drugs? Without Part D, you’ll be out of luck (or money). Do you really want to worry about that on top of everything else?

Still not convinced? Let’s say you become eligible for Medicare in February but decide not to join a plan because you don’t take any drugs. In June, you’re diagnosed with Lyme disease, so your doctor prescribes several expensive medications. A few months later you experience some complications and have to take a few more drugs. Some of these new-fangled drugs cost hundreds of dollars for people without insurance–why chance it?

The dreaded late-enrollment penalty
Are you starting to think twice about delaying enrollment now? If not, the late-enrollment penalty should be the deciding factor.
If you don’t enroll in a Part D plan when you first became eligible, or you go for 63 continuous days or more without creditable prescription drug coverage,* you will more than likely have to pay a monthly penalty if you join a Part D plan later.

If you must pay a late enrollment penalty:
• The penalty amount will be added to your premium invoice each month.
• You will be charged a penalty for as long as you have Part D coverage—it follows you everywhere, even if you switch plans.
• The penalty amount will change each year, based on the national base plan premium.

How to determine the amount of the penalty that you will pay:
• Count the number of full months you delayed joining a Part D plan after you were first eligible to enroll or the number of full months in which you did not have creditable prescription drug coverage for more than 63 days.
• The penalty is 1% for every month that you delayed or didn’t have creditable coverage.
• Multiply the penalty percentage (1% x number of months) and the national base plan premium (for 2012, the average is $31.08). Then round to the nearest 10 cents.
• For example, if you go 10 months without prescription drug coverage, you will have to pay an extra $3.11 each month in 2012 (1% x 10 x $31.08 rounded up).

In this example above, an extra $3.11 a month doesn’t really sound like much, but do you really want to pay more than everyone else for the same thing?

Tomorrow, the first day of Open Enrollment, I’ll review eligibility windows for enrollment and go over again how to avoid the late-enrollment penalty.

*Creditable prescription drug coverage is coverage that is at least as good as Medicare’s standard prescription drug coverage.

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