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Managing Medicare: FAQs

Hand holding stethescope over chaulkboard with MEDICARE written on itBy: Camila Cal, SeniorLivingGuide.com

Navigating the system of Medicare and Social Security can be overwhelming and stressful, but it is necessary. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone! On the SeniorLivingGuide.com Podcast, we were joined by Liz Odwani, Public Affairs Specialist from the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) and she provided her expertise in answering some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to all things Medicare and Social Security.

Are there any changes happening with Social Security in 2023?

The answer is yes, and good news, too: Because inflation is increasing and people are asking for higher wages, Social Security benefits and supplemental income payments for 70 million Americans will increase by 8.7%. This is called the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) and it will take effect in January 2023, thought increased Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment will begin by December 30, 2022.

Back to the basics: what is Medicare and who can receive it?  

Medicare is our country’s health insurance program! Every day that you work, you pay into social security, and it helps with the cost of healthcare, though it doesn’t cover everything.SeniorLivingGuide.com Podcast Banner

There are different parts of Medicare that you should be aware of: Part A (Hospital Insurance), Part B (Medical Insurance), Part C (Medicare Advantage), and Part D (Drug Coverage).

Part A and B cover 80% of hospital bills and Part C and D cover the rest. For more information and Part breakdowns, visit medicare.gov.

To apply for Social Security, you can register before the age of 65 years old at ssa.gov, by phone, or in person at a local office.

Speaking of websites, where is the best place to find Medicare information?

Odwani provided a tip: if it ends in .gov, it will be a good resource because that means it’s an official website. Examples of reliable websites include socialsecurity.gov, ssa.gov, cms.gov, and healthcare.gov.

How do you sign up for Part B if you already have Part A?

If you’re enrolled in Part A but not in Part B, you can go to their website (ssa.gov) where you will find information on how to enroll online during special enrollment period without a penalty.

Woah! What is a penalty?

Odwani said if you don’t take your Medicare past the age of 65 and you didn’t have coverage from your employer or spouse’s current employer (maybe you’re in good health or felt like it wasn’t necessary or you didn’t want another expense), for every year you wait, under general enrollment, there’s a 10% penalty.

She also explained that a lot of people have free medical coverage through Veterans Affairs (VA) which may lead some to decline Medicare because they’re already covered. But remember: if you don’t have insurance through your current employer or spouse’s employer, and you’re over the age of 65 without having taken Medicare during initial enrollment, then you would be paying a penalty.

Let’s talk money: What is the monthly premium for Part B, and does it make a difference if you have a higher income?

In 2022, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the monthly premium was $170.10. In 2023, the monthly premium will be $164.90.

When the Social Security Administration is looking at if you will have to pay more than the base, they will reference what your income was for the last two years and consider factors such as how the taxes were filed, and what the income bracket was.

However, Odwani said there is a workaround for some people. If you had a life changing event that impacted your finances (marriage, divorce, work reduction), then your tax info has changed. Income may now be shared, reduced, or changed in some way. On ssa.gov, you can fill out the SSA 44 Life Changing Event form (under the “forms” tab). If you meet criteria, you could qualify to pay less.

How can we seek help from the Social Security Administration?

SSA can be reached over the phone (during regular office hours) or the general number (1-800) 772-1213 has extended hours from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. EST.

They also have automated services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Automated services are available to facilitate issues such as finding out where local offices are, replacing Medicare cards, etc. (You can also see where local offices are near you at ssa.gov/locator.)

Odwani emphasized that everyone should have a My Social Security account because it is a resource where you can see your statement online. This is important because statements are no longer mailed. If you are over the age of 18, you can make a My Social Security account and stay up to date with your information.

I got a phone call saying my social security number had been suspended, how do I know if there’s a problem with my account?

Unfortunately, seniors are often the victims of fraudulent scams regarding Social Security. In 2019, one out of 10 people were scammed with these calls. In 2020, that number increased to one out of five people. Often, these scammers will use fake caller identification numbers, claim to be government employees, and demand payment via gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or mailed cash.

Odwani provided some insight: If there’s ever a problem, a letter will be mailed. The Social Security Administration will only contact you if you requested a call or have ongoing business. Government employees would never threaten, intimidate, or demand payment through the above-mentioned methods (wire transfers, gift cards, mailed cash, etc.). They will also never ask for personal details (like a social security or account number) or bank information. Additionally, Social Security numbers never get suspended. It will always be your number, even after death, Odwani explained.

If you experience any of these fraudulent calls, report the scams to oig.ssa.gov/scam or ssa.gov/scam. They work to figure out where the calls are coming from and try to catch the culprits.

Is there anything else we should know?

Odwani reminded us that the Social Security Administration is always happy to help. “Remember, we are public and civil servants, so we are here for you!”

For more senior and caregiver resource podcasts, visit SeniorLivingGuide.com Podcasts or they can be found most anywhere you enjoy music or podcasts such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podchaser, and more!

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