Q & A: February 2021

Q & A: February 2021

Missing Medicare Part B Enrollment Deadline Triggers Penalties

Q: My daughter’s father-in-law lives with them and he looks really sick.  I urged my daughter to take him to the doctor.  My daughter tells me that she learned that he doesn’t have Medicare Part B.  He’s 81 years old!  After spending hours on the phone, she learned that he will have to pay an extra $160 per month for his Medicare Part B coverage, in addition to the $148.50 for 2021.  Can this be correct?  What can she do?

A:  It sounds as though your daughter’s father-in-law didn’t sign up for Medicare Part B by his enrollment deadline and is now subject to a late enrollment penalty.  For each 12-month period he delayed enrollment in Medicare Part B, he will have to pay a 10% Part B penalty.  A penalty of as much as an extra $160 per month in addition to the current premium of $148.50 for 2021, suggests that he is being penalized for a 16-year period he did not have Medicare coverage.  That suggests that he didn’t enroll at age 65.  That would mean his base Medicare Part B premium could be $308.50 per month when he enrolls.

Unlike other government penalties, such as a tax penalty, the extra $160 per month is permanent, and is payable for the rest of the time he has Medicare.  To avoid further penalties, we strongly urge your daughter to get her father-in-law enrolled in Medicare Part B as quickly as possible.  If her father-in-law only receives Social Security and has limited savings, he may qualify for a Medicare Savings Program that would pay the cost of the Part B premium.

However, he must first apply for Medicare Part B and pay the initial Part B premium to get the process started, and he only may do so during the Medicare General Enrollment Period.  This period is going on right now, starting January 1 through March 31, each year.  The application can be safely done online at the Social Security Administration’s website.  The coverage will not actually start until July 1, 2021.  In the meantime, we recommend that you contact his local Medicaid or Senior Services department to learn if his income qualifies him for short-term Medicaid coverage.

If his income is too high to qualify for either, your daughter may want to find out if the $160 penalty is really accurate.  If she can find evidence that her father-in-law had qualifying health insurance coverage after turning age 65, such as through a former employer, even for a few years, that coverage may potentially reduce the amount of the Part B delayed enrollment penalty.  This sort of digging can be difficult if her father-in-law has cognitive or memory issues now.  Another family member or a former coworker may be able to help though, and at $160 a month, it’s worth a few calls.

Your daughter can get free one-on-one counseling for her father-in-law through your State Health Insurance Program (SHIP).  For more information about the Medicare Part B delayed enrollment penalty visit the Medicare interactive website of the Medicare Rights Center.