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Ask Ms. Medicare

Higher Income-Related Premiums for Part B

A one-time event like the sale of a house can mean having to pay a higher Medicare Part B premium.

In any of those circumstances—even if they occurred a year or more ago—call 1-800-772-1213 to arrange an interview at a local Social Security office. Or you can download a form from the Web, fill it out and mail it. Either way, you must provide proof of the life-changing event—for example, copies of a death or marriage certificate, a divorce decree, documents relating to a change in work, or an insurance claim for property damage.

If Social Security accepts that your 2008 income has been reduced as a result of one of those events, you will not be required to pay the higher Part B premium in 2009, even if this was based on a windfall income you received in 2007. In other words, reduced income due to a life-changing event trumps the sale of a house (or any other one-time spike in income) that occurred two years earlier. When Social Security has revised its records, you’ll receive a refund of any money due to you.

What if you suddenly lose income from, for example, the stock market crash? Or if you or the IRS has made a mistake in your adjusted gross income? Neither is considered a life-changing event. In these circumstances, Social Security officials will accept an amended tax return or any other proof that the IRS has corrected its records as a basis for making a new determination for the year in question. Again, any overpayments will be refunded.

You can also request a new decision in these situations:

  • If your tax-filing status for the year used to calculate your premium was “married filing separately” but you did not live with your spouse at any time during that year.
  • If Social Security used three-year-old tax records to determine your current premium and you have a signed copy of your tax return from two years ago—or you sign a statement saying you were not required to file a tax return two years ago.

If you think Social Security has made a mistake in deciding that you should pay a higher Part B premium, you always have the right to ask Social Security to reconsider. But its response will be based on the rules above. If you don’t agree with the final decision, you can also take the matter through several further levels of appeal.

For more detailed information—including how Social Security calculates the basis for a higher premium and how to request a reconsideration or make an appeal—see the official publication “Medicare Part B Premiums: New Rules for Beneficiaries With Higher Incomes 2009.”

Patricia Barry is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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