6 helpful tips for caregivers signing up their loved ones for Medicare
Around 44 million Americans informally care for an elderly, ill, or disabled family member or friend. If you’re one of these Medicare caregivers, here are some helpful tips to follow when helping them enroll in Medicare.
Another great resource for help with Medicare enrollment is a licensed insurance agent. Call one at (800) 827-9990 today.
When to get started as a Medicare caregiver
Timing is everything with Medicare. The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) for Medicare begins 3 months before your loved one turns 65 and ends 3 months after they turn 65. Including the month they turn 65, that gives you 7 months to take care of Medicare enrollment. Shelley Miller, a Medicare consultant in Moscow Mills, Missouri, recommends that you start planning even earlier. “I always encourage someone to start 6 months out,” she says.
That’s good advice, since Medicare offers several different options. What’s more, you may already have your hands full caring for your loved one, perhaps while holding down a full-time job or caring for your own children as well. (Almost 1 in 3 caregivers spend at least 20 hours a week on caregiving, and among primary family caregivers, more than half of those under age 65 are employed.)
Get to know the parts of Medicare
Medicare is not just a one-size-fits-all program. Instead, your loved one has the option of enrolling in different parts:
- Medicare Part A: This covers hospital care. It comes with no premium for most people who’ve worked at least 10 years; those who’ve worked less pay either $274 or $499 for 2022.
- Medicare Part B: This covers doctor visits, outpatient care, and preventive services. The premium is typically $170.10 per month for 2022, though it could be higher depending on your income.
- Medicare Part C (or Medicare Advantage): This is an alternative to Original Medicare (Parts A and B together), which is available through an approved, private insurer and provides coverage that’s comparable to Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans can also cover prescription drugs and some other extra services that Original Medicare doesn’t, such as dental, vision, and hearing. Premiums vary by plan, and those with this plan are still responsible for the Part B premium.
- Medicare Part D: This covers prescription drugs. Monthly premiums (bills) vary by plan and income.
- Medicare Supplement Insurance plans (or Medigap plans): This covers some of the out-of-pocket expenses from Original Medicare. For example, a Medigap plan may cover out-of-pocket costs and help pay for emergency care received while traveling abroad. In most states, Medigap plans are identified by the letters A through N. Premiums can vary depending on age, sex, and health status.
It’s a lot to take in, but there are multiple sources you can tap into to get additional information and help. If you have additional questions, Miller suggests reaching out for assistance. “You can contact Medicare, you can contact your Area Agencies on Aging, or you can contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Programs. All those resources are free, and their staffers are trained on Medicare.” Another great place for resources and contact information is the Eldercare Locator.
Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 to learn more about Medicare, or compare Medicare plans in your area online today.
What to know about Medicare and home health care services
If you’re starting to have trouble juggling your full-time day job and being a caregiver to your loved one, there’s help available. Both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage provide coverage for medically necessary home health care services.
For example, if your loved one is recovering from surgery, Medicare Part A will pay for things like wound care and injections. Medicare Part A also pays for short-term skilled nursing care after a hospital stay.
Medicare also doesn’t pay for the care you provide, although you may be able to receive some assistance through the National Family Caregiver Support Program. This federal program gives grants to states to fund programs like caregiver training, support groups, and respite care.
If you miss the IEP, there are other enrollment periods
If you miss your loved one’s IEP, you still have a chance to help them enroll in Medicare. You can enroll them during Medicare’s General Enrollment Period (GEP), which runs from January 1 through March 31 each year. But their coverage won’t begin until July 1. (By comparison, if you sign them up before the month they turn 65, their coverage starts the month of their birthday.)
Your loved one will also be eligible for an 8-month Special Enrollment Period (SEP) if they lose so-called creditable coverage. “Creditable coverage means you’re covered by an employer plan with 20 or more employees,” says Miller. “So you’re actively working, and you’re covered by that active employer group health plan.” (Losing retiree or COBRA coverage doesn’t count.)
How your loved one can avoid late enrollment penalties
One of the most important reasons to get your loved one enrolled in Medicare on time is to help them avoid late enrollment penalties. Here are some prime examples:
- For Medicare Part A, the premium goes up 10% for twice the number of years your loved one fails to sign up. So if you were eligible for Part A for 2 years but didn’t sign up, you’d have to pay the higher premium for 4 years. (This penalty doesn’t apply if your loved one is eligible for premium-free Part A.)
- For Part B, the premium goes up 10% for each 12-month period your loved one fails to sign up. That continues for as long as you’re covered.
- For Part D, the penalty is 1% of the “national base beneficiary premium” ($33.37 in 2022) multiplied by the number of months your loved one fails to sign up. It continues forever, although the amount may change each year.
Learn more about your loved one’s health options by calling a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990. They can answer your questions about available plans. Or compare plans online to see what’s available.
What are you allowed to do as a Medicare caregiver?
The Social Security Administration, which handles Medicare enrollment, welcomes relatives, friends, attorneys, and other third parties to help people get signed up. That includes retirement, disability, and spouse’s benefits. In fact, there are only a few things you can’t do on their behalf.
Here’s the initial step-by-step process for signing up together:
- When you and your loved one start the application process online at ssa.gov, your loved one will need to agree to the website’s terms of service and log into (or create) their Social Security account.
- From there, you can enter all their required information and choose all the options your loved one wants.
- At the end of the process, your loved one will need to sign the application electronically. If they aren’t with you when you complete the application, the Social Security Administration can also mail them a copy of the application to verify and sign.
You can find a handy checklist of the materials you’ll need on the Social Security website. But note that before you even start this process as a caregiver, you’ll need to become an official authorized representative if you want to do other business with the Social Security Administration on your loved one’s behalf. You can do so by submitting Form SSA-1696, which is also available on the website.