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Social Security Mailbox

Can I Forgo Medicare Part B If I Have VA Medical Coverage?

Yes, but think long and hard about whether you should

Q. I turn 65 soon and hear that the Social Security Administration deducts $99.90 a month from your benefit for Medicare Part B. I’m a low-income veteran and get all my medical care from the VA, including drugs. The VA charges me nothing. Can I continue going to the VA and have Social Security not deduct the $99.90 for Part B, which I won’t be using?

A. Yes, you can choose not to enroll in Medicare Part B. The question is: Do you really want to make that choice?

See also: Should a veteran keep Medicare Part B?

The Department of Veterans Affairs strongly urges everyone who gets VA health care to join Medicare Part B on reaching age 65. By doing so, the veteran broadens his or her health insurance coverage and receives many potentially valuable health care benefits. Here are some of those:

  • Medicare Part B insurance helps pay for doctors’ services and outpatient care. It will cover you if you have an emergency and are taken to a non-VA hospital. Without Part B, you might have to pay some of those costs yourself. In future years, you also may have need to use medical providers outside the VA system. Those costs would be covered by Medicare.
  • VA medical care depends on an annual congressional appropriation. There’s no guarantee that the VA will always receive enough funds to provide care for all veterans.
  • Although the VA is not permitted to bill Medicare for the care it provides you, it is allowed to bill your Medicare supplemental (Medigap) insurance plan. If you have both Medicare and a Medigap policy, it could provide you with valuable health insurance package.
  • As a low-income person, you may be able to get help paying your Part B premiums through the state-run Medicare Savings Program. Go to this Medicare webpage to find out which agency in your state runs the program.

You can discuss your situation both with Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and with the Veterans Administration health benefits office by calling 1-877-222-8387 toll-free. Don’t be surprised if they both urge you to enroll in Part B as soon as you’re eligible.

Under Medicare enrollment rules, you have seven months to sign up for Part B medical insurance. The period begins three months before the month of your 65th birthday, includes the month of your birthday and ends three months after your birthday month.

If you miss your initial enrollment period and don’t qualify for various exceptions, your monthly premium will increase 10 percent for each 12-month period you were eligible but did not enroll. Thus, if you wait several years to enroll, your monthly premiums will be quite a bit higher.

You may also like: Top 25 Social Security questions. »

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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