published Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Social Security: What you need to know about Medicare Part B

By Gregory Holmes
  • photo
    Gregory Holmes, district manager for Social Security

You may already know that Medicare is a medical insurance program for people who are 65 or older and for people who are disabled at any age. Some people are covered only by one type of Medicare; others opt to pay extra for more coverage. Understanding Medicare can save you money.

If you're eligible for and want to be covered by Medicare Part B medical insurance, now is the time to sign up. The general enrollment period for Medicare Part B runs from January 1 through March 31. Before you make a decision about general enrollment, here is some useful information.

There are four parts to Medicare: Parts A,

B, C and D. Part A helps pay for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing care, hospice care, and other services. Part B helps pay for doctors' fees, outpatient hospital visits, and other medical services and supplies not covered by Part A. Part C allows you to choose to receive all of your health care services through a managed health care organization. These plans, known as Medicare Advantage Plans, may help lower your costs of receiving medical services, or you may get extra benefits for an additional monthly fee. You must have both Parts A and B to enroll in Part C. And Part D is the Medicare Prescription Drug Program.

There is a monthly premium for Medicare Part B. In 2013, the standard premium is $104.90. Some high-income individuals pay more than the standard premium. Your Part B premium also can be higher if you do not enroll during your initial enrollment period, or when you first become eligible.

There are exceptions to this rule. For example, you can delay your Medicare Part B enrollment without having to pay higher premiums if you are covered under a group health plan based on your own current employment or the current employment of any family member. If this situation applies to you, you have a "special enrollment period" in which to sign up for Medicare Part B, without paying the premium surcharge for late enrollment. This rule allows you to:

• Enroll in Medicare Part B at any time while you are covered under a group health plan based on your own current employment or the current employment of any family member; or

• Enroll in Medicare Part B during the eight-month period that begins following the last month your group health coverage ends, or following the month employment ends, whichever comes first.

If you receive disability benefits and have coverage from a working family member, the same rules apply.

If you live in one of the 50 states or Washington, D.C., and you're already receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits or railroad retirement payments, you will be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B automatically. However, because you must pay a premium for Part B coverage, you have the option of turning it down.

If you don't enroll in Medicare Part B when you first become eligible to apply and you don't fall under the special enrollment period, you'll have to wait until the general enrollment period, which is Jan. 1 through March 31 of each year. At that time, you may have to pay a higher Medicare Part B premium.

For more information about Medicare, visit the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website at www.medicare.gov.

Submit questions to local Social Security Director Gregory Holmes by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@timesfreepress.com.

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