America’s veterans need to enroll in Medicare the right way

Dear Toni,

My husband, Jason, is a Vietnam veteran and never enrolled in Medicare Part B because he uses the VA for his medical care. He is 77 years old and retired when he turned 65 about 12 years ago.

Because he is having heart issues, he wants to go to a local cardiologist that his best friend uses and must now enroll in Medicare for that to happen. Social Security advised Jason that he must pay more to enroll in Medicare Part B because he never enrolled when he turned 65 in 2011.

After reading your Medicare articles in our local newspaper, we need your guidance. Is there a way that he can take Part B without having to pay the extra penalty? Thank You, Toni.

— Christina from Tampa, Florida

Hello Christina,

Since Jason did not enroll in Medicare when he first turned 65 and was no longer working with employer benefits, Jason will get the famous Part B late enrollment penalty when he enrolls during Medicare's general enrollment period from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Now is the time for Jason to enroll in both parts of Medicare, Part A and Part B. He did not enroll in Part B when he was first eligible in 2011, and his late enrollment penalty is 10% for each full 12-month period he could have had Part B but did not sign up for it. His penalty will be for the 12 full years, an extra 120% each month for the rest of his Medicare life.

For 2024, Jason's Medicare Part B penalty will be 120% times $174.70 or an extra $209.60. Adding the penalty amount to the Part B premium of $174.70 equals $384.30 per month.

No one ever knows when they will need to receive health care outside of a Veterans Affairs Center. Christina, now you understand the value of enrolling in Medicare when one is turning 65, whether he/she is a veteran who uses the VA or someone who only has Medicare and will need Medicare insurance. (Chapter 1 of the Medicare Survival Guide Advanced edition explains the rules of enrolling in Medicare the right way, especially those with veteran benefits.)

Since Jason will be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B for the first time, the Medicare enrollment options and rules apply:

— A Medicare supplement has a six-month open enrollment period that begins the first month enrolled in Part B, and the Medicare enrollee will not have to answer health questions for underwriting. After six months, complete underwriting will happen.

— A Medicare Advantage plan (with or without Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage), according to page 71 of the 2024 Medicare and You handbook, "starts the first day of the month after you sign up." You must have both Part A and Part B to join a Medicare Advantage plan. Some advantage plans have "extra benefits" for America's veterans.

But there is some good news for Jason, Christina. Not enrolling in Part D, Medicare's prescription drug plan, is a different story. Medicare considers the VA to be "creditable" coverage" and when veterans with VA benefits enroll in Part D later, they do not get the Medicare Part D late enrollment penalty. There is no Part D doughnut hole when receiving prescriptions from the VA and not enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan.

And there is more good news: If the premium is too expensive, Jason can remain with the VA and explore his options for non-VA medical care by contacting his VA center and asking for referrals outside his local VA.

Toni King is an author and columnist on Medicare and health insurance issues. She has spent nearly 30 years as a top sales leader in the field. If you have a Medicare question, email info@tonisays.com or call 832-519-8664. Toni's books and her newsletter are available at tonisays.com. Toni's Medicare Survival Guide Advance edition, a simple guide that puts Medicare in "people" terms, is on sale at tonisays.com. You can also schedule a "Confused about Medicare Workshop" for your organization or company by emailing or calling.

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