Joys and sorrows of turning 65 — Medicare Part B

There are a few good things about turning 65. In some states, people who are 65 or older don’t have to serve on a jury. Or have their car emissions checked. If things get worse with North Korea or Iran and they bring back the draft, those 65 and older will be the last called up. And if your birthday is in mid-winter, the heat from the candles on your cake can take the chill out of the air. Otherwise, that’s about it as far as celebrating 65 goes.

One of the tough choices for people turning 65 can be both important and expensive. For most people, turning 65 means they have an important and expensive decision to make. It’s what David Snell of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees calls the “To B Or Not To B” issue. Should they buy Medicare Part B coverage? Part A you get free, for paying into Social Security. Part B is the one that includes doctors’ expenses. And it’s not free and it’s not cheap. But it can be an expensive mistake not to have it if it turns out you desperately need it someday. Snell said that “premiums are a little more complicated for 2017 due to the small COLA and the hold harmless Provision of the SSA law.

For those Part B enrollees who are not receiving SSA benefits and whose individual income tax return showed income $85,000 or less or whose joint tax return shows income of $170,000 or less, the basic monthly premium is $134 in 2017.

For those whose Part B premium can be withheld from their monthly SSA benefit and are under the hold harmless provision, the basic premium is $109 per month for 2017.

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If you buy it, you will pay a lot in monthly premiums. If you don’t buy it and need it, you can be out of pocket thousands of dollars.

Benefits expert John Elliott said the “To B or Not To B” Medicare question is one of the toughest facing older people.

Meanwhile, here’s a summary of what he said you should know about the all important Medicare Part B question:

“The hospitalization portion of Medicare, Part A, is free, so it is good to apply for that at 65, which means you should have no out-of-pocket hospital expenses except for prescription drugs. You may apply for Part A and B three months before your 65th birthday, the month you are 65 and three months after you turn 65. You can apply at any convenient Social Security District Office. A list of offices is at www.ssa.gov. You may also apply online at www.medicare.gov, which is easier.

“Part B is not free. The current monthly premium is $134 per person in 2017 for a couple making $170,000 per year or less, or $85,000 for a single person. Higher premiums are charged if you exceed those income levels. The decision to take Part B is highly individualized. As to whether to enroll in Part B, I’d look at your current state of health, your health risk factors e.g., do you smoke, your weight, lack of exercise, etc., and your family history.

“If one of these is in negative territory, I would consider taking Part B. A combination of Part B and your FEHB plan will eliminate all out-of-pocket expenses for doctors’ fees, outpatient fees, lab costs, etc. The taking of Part B allows many to choose a cheaper FEHB plan. If all your health signs and lifestyle are positive, however, you probably shouldn’t take Part B, especially if your income puts you in the higher premium category, or if your doctor refuses Medicare assignment. I did not take Part B, as a federal retiree, because I am an infrequent consumer of medical services. So, paying the part B premium wouldn’t be cost effective for me.

“For each year you delay enrolling for Part B beyond 65, a 10 percent late enrollment fee is added to the premium. For example, if you retired on or before age 65, and did not enroll for Part B until age 68, you’d pay 30 percent more than if you had enrolled when you were first eligible at 65. If, however, you are employed and covered under an employer sponsored health plan like FEHBP, or if you are covered under a working spouse’s plan, the first 10 percent late fee does not kick in until eight months after you or your spouse retires.

“If you choose to enroll in Part B, you could enroll in a cheaper FEHB plan, like Blue Cross Basic or GEHA Standard, for example. You may change plans at any time beginning on the 30th day before becoming eligible for Medicare. Information about FEHB plans, what they cost and what they cover is found at www.opm.gov/insure. You should not need Part D coverage because your FEHB plan provides generally better drug coverage.

“If you choose not to enroll in Medicare, your FEHBP provider is required by law to limit their payments to those payments you would be entitled to if you had Medicare.”

Correction request and response

“The article by Mike Causey on Medicare Part B is inaccurate. Some excerpt was used containing errors.

“Medicare Part A is free to those with enough quarters, which is correct. However the statement that there would be no out-of-pocket costs for hospitalization is incorrect. A person being admitted to the Hospital with Medicare Part A only would be responsible for a Part A deductible of $1,316 per benefit period. Upon day 61 they begin paying $329 per day through day 90. Charges continue beyond this when a person enters lifetime reserve days in in day 91 at a rate of $65 per day through day 150 if the benefit remains. This is just the beginning of Part A cost-sharing. I am expecting a correction to the article and a reply to my e-mailed as provided. I am a licensed insurance agent specializing in Medicare.” — Ryan Murphy

I ran Mr. Murphy’s correction past Mary Beth Franklin, an expert on Medicare. She said: “Most feds continue their FEHBP (health insurance) as supplemental insurance (Medigap) when they enroll in Medicare. Their FEHBP generally pays for all of Medicare’s deductibles and co-payments so I think you are on solid ground in the Federal Report when writing for a federal retiree audience. Most non-feds have to buy a private medigap policy.”

I also checked with David Snell director of retirement benefits at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees. He said: “Mr. Murphy is correct for individuals who have no secondary health insurance such as enrollment/coverage in one of the FEHBP fee-for-service plans” which most federal retirees do. — Mike Causey

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Kernels of popcorn that failed to pop — commonly called “Old Maids” — did so because they didn’t have enough water within the starch to build up pressure when heated.

Source: ThermoWorks