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Can One Part B Premium Cover Two Medicare Beneficiaries?

Does Medicare offer any family packages or price breaks for married couples?

Q. I’m already a Medicare beneficiary, and my wife will become one soon. When that happens, will we each have to pay the Part B premium or will one premium cover both of us?

Each of you must pay the Part B premium ($96.40 a month in 2009*). Unlike other kinds of health insurance you may have had in the past, there are no family packages or price breaks for married couples in Medicare. It’s the same for the Part B annual deductible ($135 in 2009): Both of you must pay this amount out of pocket at the beginning of the year (or when you enroll in Part B for the first time) before your individual coverage kicks in.

The same applies to Part D premiums if you sign up for Medicare prescription drug coverage—one premium for each of you, even if you both join the same Part D plan. If the plan has an annual deductible, again you must meet it individually before coverage begins for your prescriptions. And the same goes for any premiums and deductibles charged by Medicare Advantage private health plans if you receive your medical benefits through one of them.

One tip worth considering: If you and your wife are enrolled in the same drug or health plan and pay your premiums by check, it may be wise to pay with separate checks—or, at the very least, clearly write on the check that the amount covers premiums for both of you. That way, you avoid the possibility that the plan would process each check as a two-month payment for just one spouse—and then the other spouse would be dropped from coverage for “nonpayment” of premiums. This may be a rare occurrence, but it has happened.

* The Part B premium is higher if your income (as an individual or for married couples filing joint tax returns) is over a certain amount, as explained here.

Patricia Barry is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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