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What veterans need to know about Medicare enrollment

Dear Toni: My husband, Jason, is a Vietnam veteran and never enrolled in Medicare Part B because he uses the VA for medical care. He is 77 years old and retired at 65.

Because he is having heart issues, he wants to go to a local cardiologist that his best friend uses and must now enroll in Medicare for that to happen. Social Security advised Jason that he must pay more to enroll in Part B because he never enrolled when he turned 65 in 2011.

We need your guidance. Is there a way that he can take Part B without having to pay the extra penalty? — Christina from Tampa, Florida

Dear Christina: Because Jason did not enroll in Medicare when he turned 65 and was no longer working with true employer benefits, he will incur a penalty when he applies during Medicare’s general enrollment period (Jan. 1 to March 31).

Now is the time for Jason to enroll in both Part A and Part B. His late enrollment penalty will be 10 percent for each year that he could have had Part B but did not sign up for it. In his case, it will amount to an extra 120 percent each month for the rest of his Medicare life. For 2024, that would add $209.60 per month to the Part B premium of $174.70.

No one ever knows when they will need health care beyond what the VA offers. This is the value of enrolling in Medicare at 65, whether you’re a veteran who uses the VA or someone who only has Medicare.

But there is some good news for Jason. Not enrolling in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage is a different story. Medicare considers the VA to be creditable coverage, so when veterans with VA benefits enroll in Part D later, they do not incur a late-enrollment penalty.

And some more good news: If the premium is too expensive, Jason can remain with the VA and explore his options for non-VA medical care by contacting his VA center and asking for outside referrals.

Toni King is an author and columnist on Medicare and health insurance issues. If you have a Medicare question, email info@tonisays.com or call 832-519-8664.

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