Q & A: July 2020

What Should I Do?  I Lost My Job And Health Insurance.

Q:  The company that I worked for shut down in March because of the coronavirus, and I did not get my job back.  I lost my paycheck and my health insurance.  I’m over 65 and, because I was getting insurance through my employer, I have not enrolled in Medicare or Social Security.  What should I do now?

A:  More than 26 million workers filed unemployment claims over the five-week period that ended April 18, 2020.  Millions of workers who lost jobs also lost their health insurance, and the severity of COVID-19 leaves uninsured people at risk for potentially catastrophic healthcare costs.

Because you are over the age of 65, you are eligible for Medicare.  When you lose employer provided health insurance, you have a limited period of time to enroll in Medicare and to get your healthcare coverage set up.  If you act right away, you should qualify for Medicare’s Special Enrollment Period, which would allow you to avoid permanent late enrollment penalties that significantly drive up the cost of your Medicare insurance.  You have an 8 - month period that began the month your employment ended to avoid penalties and coverage gaps (April 2020 – November 2020).  Since this process can take time, we recommend that you get started.  Generally you need to apply for Medicare Part B through the Social Security website.  Since your situation is complicated, we encourage you to get free one-one-one counseling through your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at: www.shiptacenter.org.

During this Special Enrollment Period, you will be able to enroll in Medicare Part B, and to select how you want to receive your coverage — through traditional Medicare, with a Medigap supplement and Part D plan for drug coverage — or a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage.  The Special Enrollment Period applies when your former health insurance was under a group health plan with 20 or more employees.  Since you lost your job, your income may now be low — and you did not mention any retirement savings.  You could find that you qualify for low-income programs that help with your Medicare Part B premiums and drug costs.

And since you are over 65, you may be at or near your full retirement age, the age at which can receive the full amount of your Social Security benefits without reduction.  You can start retirement benefits now and still continue to look for work.  However, if you are under your full retirement age — 66 — when you return to work, you may be subject to Social Security’s earnings restriction for the period until you turn 66.

How has the coronavirus affected you?  Take TSCL’s 2020 Senior Cost Survey at www.seniorsleague.org/2020-senior-cost-survey.