Lost Your Employer Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Outbreak? You May Qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period
Follow our Medicare Coronavirus News page for related information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on Medicare beneficiaries.
Have you lost your job and your employer health insurance because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
Are you at least 65 years old and eligible to sign up for Medicare Part B but previously delayed enrollment while you continued to work because you still had employer-based insurance?
Whether or not you lost your group coverage due to COVID-19, you may qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period (SEP) if you meet the following conditions:
You are at least 65 years old but delayed retirement and continued to work.
You were receiving health insurance through your employer, and therefore did not enroll in Medicare Part A and/or Part B when you first became eligible.
You were laid off or retired and lost your health insurance.
If you are unsure about whether you qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period, or if you qualify and want to compare Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) and/or Medicare Part D prescription drug plans in your area, you can speak with a licensed insurance agent for help.
A licensed insurance agent can answer any questions you have and help you compare benefits, costs, coverage and other details of Medicare plans that may be available in your area.
You may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period
Medicare has scheduled periods throughout the year in which you can enroll or make changes to your coverage.
A Special Enrollment Period takes place outside of the annual Medicare enrollment periods, and they may be granted to people during any time of the year, depending on the specific circumstances.
One of the ways you may qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period is if you lose your employer-provided health insurance through no fault of your own.
If you lost your job during the COVID-19 pandemic (and thus your employer health insurance as well), you may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period that will allow you to sign up for Medicare Part B without having to pay the late enrollment penalty.
If you’re granted a Medicare Special Enrollment Period in this circumstance, you may typically be able to enroll during an 8-month period that starts the month after your employment ends or the month after your employer group health plan ends, whichever comes first.
If you do not sign up for Medicare Part A and/or Part B during your special enrollment period, you will have to wait until the General Enrollment Period to sign up, which lasts from January 1 to March 31 each year. You may have to pay the late enrollment penalty if you sign up during this time.
You don’t typically have to pay a Part B late enrollment penalty if you enroll in Medicare during an SEP.
You may be able to enroll in Medicare over the phone or online
Local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to guests as of the week of March 16, in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The offices are closed until further notice.
This means that if you’re ready to enroll in Medicare, you can learn how to enroll online. You may also contact Social Security by phone to learn more about Medicare enrollment during COVID-19 by calling 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the SSA at TTY 1-800-325-0778.
You may have to pay a late enrollment penalty
If you didn’t enroll in Medicare Part B when you first became eligible, you may face a late enrollment penalty if and when you decide to enroll. The late enrollment penalty is 10% of the Part B premium for each 12-month period that you were eligible to enroll but did not.
The late enrollment penalty remains in place for as long as you are enrolled in Part B.
You may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan
There are a number of ways to qualify for a Medicare Advantage Special Enrollment Period or a Medicare Part D Special Enrollment Period.
One of the situations that may qualify you for one of these types of Special Enrollment Periods is if you lose drug coverage (such as through an employer plan) through no fault of your own that was equal to or better than that offered by Medicare, or your drug coverage is reduced to a level that is below that of Medicare’s.
If you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period because of losing employer or union (including COBRA) coverage, you may be able to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan up to 2 full months after the month your previous coverage ended.
If you’re unsure about whether you qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period, you can call to speak with a licensed insurance agent for help.
Christian Worstell is a health care and policy writer for MedicareSupplement.com. He has written hundreds of articles helping people better understand their Medicare coverage options.