As if the anxiety over the coronavirus and the economic upheaval it has triggered weren’t enough, now America’s seniors are facing another situation to add to their fears. A growing number of worried Medicare applicants are seeing their coverage requests delayed due to an overloaded system and the temporary closure of Social Security offices nationwide.
Medicare Application Delays Make a Stressful Time More Worrisome
This recent Associated Press story describes this latest medical crisis to hit older Americans. “At greater risk from COVID-19, some seniors now face added anxiety due to delays obtaining Medicare coverage,” the AP article claims. “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.” Part B benefits are especially important right now because that’s the portion of Medicare that covers office visits and lab tests – like the test for the coronavirus.
It has been at least six weeks, starting on March 17th, since Social Security offices were ordered closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Social Security is the agency that determines Medicare eligibility and processes applications, and in the absence of over-the-counter services, applicants have been forced to access the system remotely. “While many issues can still be resolved online,” says the AP, “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.”
Medicare Application Delays: Seniors Fear Being Hit with Late-Enrollment Fees
As the article explains (and anyone who’s done it can attest), signing up for Medicare Part B can be tricky even in normal times. This is especially true for applicants who have worked past the regular age of Medicare eligibility at 65 and are transitioning off of workplace coverage. While Part A enrollment (for hospitalization) is pretty much automatic, “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,” says the AP.
Fred Riccardi, president of the advocacy group Medicare Rights Center, told the Associated Press that “an already cumbersome process has been exacerbated by the pandemic shutdown,” putting some seniors at risk of owing penalties or facing a dangerous gap in their coverage at the worst possible time. “We are concerned that people who are eligible will go without coverage due to unnecessary administrative barriers and the lack of information from federal agencies,” said Riccardi. “The problem is serious.” The Medicare Rights Center is asking Congress at minimum to absolve seniors of any penalties for delayed applications during the coronavirus emergency.
Medicare Application Delays: Two Seniors with Similar Experiences
The Associated Press article spotlighted two seniors making the shift from employer coverage to Medicare. Both ended up in what the article calls “a holding pattern.” One woman from Sacramento retired February 1st. “She said she’s still trying to figure out what happened to her Medicare Part B application, which she mailed in January,” says the AP. After multiple calls with on-hold times of an hour or more, she finally learned that Social Security had no record of her Part B application. She resubmitted it.
In the second instance, a Michigan man had a similar experience. He was covered by his wife’s health plan and, as the insurance company insisted, was trying to apply for Part A coverage. “On one occasion,” the AP article said, “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.” It took a phone call to the offices of his two U.S. senators to break the logjam and get his coverage confirmed.
Medicare Application Delays: Patience and Planning Required
According to the article, Social Security acknowledges that the pandemic has greatly lengthened telephone hold times, but the agency claims the average is now down to 45 minutes. Employees are mostly working remotely and have been able to continue to serve the public. Before the pandemic, wait times averaged around 20 minutes. Social Security does allow callers to leave their number for a representative to call back.
Our advice from your friends at AgingOptions is to anticipate delays and do your best to plan ahead. Please feel free to contact us if we can answer your questions about Medicare, or any other aspect of retirement.
Two Important Retirement-Planning Announcements from AgingOptions
At AgingOptions our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. Toward that end, we want to share two important announcements that are designed to facilitate your LifePlanning process even during this period when most of us are required to avoid gathering in groups.
First, Rajiv Nagaich has scheduled several of his popular, free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. Simply visit our Events Page and register for the webinar of your choice.
Our second announcement: in cooperation with our partners at LifePoint Law, we are excited to launch a ground-breaking new service called the LifePoint Law Emergency Legal Kit. Without leaving your home, you can now consult with a LifePoint Law attorney who will work with you to prepare and sign a complete set of vitally important legal documents including both Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, a Living Will/Advance Directive, a Will or Trust, and much more. Click on the link or call us at AgingOptions and we’ll explain this excellent service to you.
Reliable information has never been more important – and that’s our promise to you at AgingOptions and LifePoint Law. Age on!
(originally reported at www.apnews.com)