Why Some Seniors Will Get a Surprise Medicare Bill Soon

Frowning senior woman
Photo by galitsin / Shutterstock.com

At least 250,000 seniors may soon receive a bill for up to five months of Medicare premiums that they thought had been paid.

The unwelcome letter is the result of a processing error that occurred in January, Kaiser Health News reports.

According to the website of the Social Security Administration (SSA), the government agency did not properly deduct Medicare premium costs from some seniors’ Social Security checks earlier this year, so those seniors’ premiums did not get sent to their Medicare plans.

Now that Uncle Sam has discovered the mistake, he wants you to pay up. According to the SSA:

“If you are affected and haven’t already received a bill in the mail, you will soon. The first bill will likely be for a larger amount than usual to make up for the unpaid premiums.”

Bills will come directly from the plans themselves, the SSA says.

According to Kaiser Health News, the federal government’s Social Security and Medicare agencies did not explain how or why the mistake occurred, nor did they “provide a more exact number or the names of the plans that were shortchanged.”

The total amount that affected Medicare enrollees now owe the plans also wasn’t announced.

What all Medicare enrollees should do now

The Kaiser Health News report notes that the affected Medicare enrollees may not realize they’ve been affected. They may have assumed the Social Security payments they received were a little bigger since January due to the 2019 cost-of-living increase in benefits, rather than because of a glitch that prevented the withholding of their Medicare premiums.

So, if you are on Medicare, consider taking it upon yourself now to determine whether you were affected rather than waiting for a letter to arrive. The sooner you find out whether you were affected, the sooner you will know whether you need to brace your finances for an unexpected health insurance bill.

According to the federal Medicare program’s own notice about the premium glitch:

“You may be affected if you enrolled either in a Medicare Advantage Plan or in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan for coverage starting January 1, 2019, and you asked to have your plan premiums taken out of your Social Security payments.”

If you fit that description, the Medicare program advises that you “contact your Medicare plan directly with any questions or concerns.” If you are unsure what plan you have, the program says to check your plan card or materials.

If you are unable to find out from your plan whether you were affected — or if you learn that you were indeed affected — you can also seek assistance from one of these entities:

  • Medicare: The federal program notes that you can call 800-MEDICARE, or 800-633-4227. Teletypewriter users can call 877-486-2048.
  • Your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP): These federally funded programs offer free counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries. For contact information, visit the national SHIP website and click on the “Find Local Medicare Help” button in the upper right corner.
  • Medicare Rights Center: This nonprofit notes that its Helpline counselors are available at 800-333-4114.

What affected Medicare enrollees should know

The Medicare program notes that the premium glitch has been corrected. This means that “unless you told your plan you now want to pay your premiums a different way, your plan premiums will be taken out properly from your Social Security payments beginning in June or July 2019 through the rest of the year.”

As for premiums that you might still owe due to the glitch, you should know that:

  • The Medicare program says that if you receive a bill from your Medicare plan, the plan must offer you a grace period to repay the missed premiums. The grace period must be at least as long as the billing delay.
  • The nonprofit Medicare Rights Center notes that Medicare plans “also have the option not to pursue these outstanding payments” for premiums.

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