Medicare Applications Raise Anxiety for Seniors

May 8, 2020 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

At greater risk from COVID-19, some seniors now face added anxiety due to delays obtaining Medicare coverage. Advocates for older people say the main problem involves certain applications for Medicare’s “Part B” coverage for outpatient care. It stems from the closure of local Social Security offices in the coronavirus pandemic. Social Security handles eligibility determinations for Medicare, and while many issues can still be resolved online, some require personal attention. That can now entail hold times of 90 minutes or more to reach Social Security on its national 800 number, according to the agency’s website.

Even in normal times, signing up for Part B could be tricky for people who worked past age 65 and kept their workplace coverage. People need to apply separately for the outpatient coverage, and provide Social Security with documentation of their employer policy, to avoid hefty late-enrollment penalties.

Social Security declined several interview requests and instead sent The Associated Press written responses to questions. The agency said it has seen an increase in requests for Part B enrollment because of older workers losing job-based coverage. Social Security said it worked with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to waive certain signature requirements for Part B forms during the pandemic and has set up a dedicated fax number to receive applications.

With the economy shedding millions of jobs, older workers going from employer coverage to Medicare can find themselves in a holding pattern.

Carol Berul of Sacramento, California, retired from state government on Feb. 1. She said she’s still trying to figure out what happened to her Medicare Part B application, which she mailed in January. Berul said she’s faced hold times of more than an hour trying to call Social Security. When she finally got through, she learned the agency had no record of her Part B application. She resubmitted it.

John Breithart of Grand Haven, Michigan is covered through his wife’s retiree health plan and earlier this month the insurer sent him a letter saying he’d be kicked off if he didn’t provide a Medicare number. Breithart started calling Social Security. He said on one occasion he was on hold for an hour and 52 minutes. Another time a returned call fell through and the case worker didn’t leave a callback number. The logjam finally broke after he contacted his two U.S. senators.

You can find the full article at The New York Times.


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