Editors note: A version of this column was first published in February 2013.
The term ‘Baby Boomer’ has been used to define the generation of US citizens born in the aftermath of World War II from 1946 to 1964. Just as they necessitated the building of elementary schools starting in the 1950’s, the Boomers are set to make a major impact on US pensions and health care as they begin to claim benefits under Social Security and Medicare.
Starting in 2011, the Boomers will likely add 8,000 new Medicare beneficiaries per day to the system. I personally have encountered a recent increase in beneficiaries who are new to Medicare in my volunteer work for the New River Valley Agency on Aging.
The Boomers, combined with those already in the Medicare system, will ensure that Medicare will claim a growing share of our health care budget for the next 20 years. It is very important for its beneficiaries to know how Medicare works and how to keep it safe and affordable in the future.
In my next few columns, I will attempt to answer a question that those who are first qualifying for Medicare often ask: “What do I need to know in order to make the most of my Medicare benefits from the start?” As with most government benefits, there are some exceptions and conditions that can affect qualifications; however, I will primarily discuss the regulations that affect the overwhelming majority of beneficiaries.
Applying for Medicare
Medicare is available to qualified individuals who are at least 65 or who have received Social Security disability benefits for at least 24 months. To qualify for Medicare, an individual must be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident for 5 continuous years and be eligible for Social Security benefits.
Beneficiaries receiving Social Security benefits when they first qualify for Medicare do not have to apply. They will receive their Medicare cards for Parts A and B automatically, usually about 3 months before their effective dates. I will discuss Parts A and B at length in my next column.
Many people opt to receive early Social Security benefits at 62 instead of waiting for full benefits at 66 or later. A person who qualifies for full Social Security benefits at 66 can receive 75% of full benefits at 62 and 132% of full benefits at 70. The percentage of full benefits received increases each year that benefits are delayed from 62 to 70. It is important to know that the lower level of benefits continues throughout the life of the beneficiary who opts to receive them early. All beneficiaries will receive approved cost of living raises, however.
Persons who are receiving Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) as a result of a disability that prevents them from being employed will receive their Medicare cards automatically when they qualify just as those who are receiving Social Security benefits do.
Anyone who is not receiving Social Security benefits at 65 will have to sign up for Medicare through the Social Security Administration, preferably 3 months prior to turning 65. A person can do so online at the Social Security website (ssa.gov) or by calling the national office at 1-800-772-1213 or a local Social Security office, which varies from county to county.
Persons who qualify for Medicare but who are still working and are covered by their employer’s insurance or who are covered by a working spouse’s employer’s insurance will almost certainly want to delay accepting Medicare. I will discuss this situation in another column.
Anyone needing help in signing up for Medicare or having questions regarding Medicare can receive personalized assistance from the New River Valley Agency on Aging at 980-7720. The Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (VICAP) at the Agency is prepared to help beneficiaries find answers to their Medicare questions.
Deena Flinchum is a retired IT professional who has lived in the New River Valley since 2002. She serves on the board of the NRV Agency on Aging and as an RSVP volunteer. She also serves the Agency on Aging as an insurance counselor.