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.