The Medicare Factor in Long Term Care Planning

Medicare and Health Insurance History in the United States With a vision to provide a universal health plan, such as Medicare, the United States does not truly have a national health care plan. Even though universal health care, another name for national health care plans, has its conception in the 20th century, the United States has shied away from its inception. In fact, the United States is one of the few industrialized countries that do not offer true, government provided universal health care.

The first private health insurance programs created nation wide was the Blue Cross plans. Originally paid by individuals on prepaid bases for certain hospitals, this was later changed to include any sponsored hospital. The individual would provide a monthly payment that ensured he was cared for a specified number of days.

The Blue Shield plan was another plan created during the 1940s. It allowed the prepayment for doctor services. The plan’s creation provided an alternative to a national health care plan. The Blue Shield and Blue Cross plans eventually merged, forming what we call today Blue Cross Blue Shield.

There are varying reasons that a national health care insurance plan has not taken hold in the United States. As the American Medical Association has opposed the establishment of a national plan, the employer sponsored insurance plan has added the catalyst to not create a national plan. Since the employers can write off the plans provided to their employees, Congress has not received any push to change the concept of employer-sponsored plans.

The closest conception of universal health care the United States institutionalized is Medicare. Medicare was created in 1965.

Then Came Medicare

So how did Medicare take hold? Though it is not a true national health care plan for everyone, only for those over 65, it is because of President Lyndon B. Johnson and a majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress that the plan came into existence.

Attempting to provide a plan comparable to the private sector, the creation of Medicare part A came about. By mimicking the current plans, Medicare part A provided a determined amount of hospital care. Any more care beyond what the plan stated was to be paid by the patient.

The disadvantage to a plan such as this is the increasing expense of hospital care. The costs paid by the insured are now at a level to completely destroy financially that individual. In other words, as expenses have increased with hospital care, Medicare Part A has not kept pace. Therefore, any difference in cost is paid for by the patient.

This realization gave way to catastrophic plans. These plans allow the insured to pay for some of the upfront costs up to a predetermined out-of-pocket limit. Once that is reached, the insurance pays 100% of the cost. Unfortunately, Medicare has not evolved into this type of arrangement.

As such, we are beginning to see the bankruptcy of the plan, as well as the bankruptcy of the insured attempting to cover their part of the insurance plan.

Medicare part B evolved into a plan to encourage doctors to be paid by the federal government with the attempt to not institute price controls by the same. Under the original intent, Medicare part B paid for 80% of a doctor’s services while the patient paid the other 20%, and any fees above the reasonable costs.

However, the plan has degenerated into a government price control plan, where the government dictates to doctors what they will be paid for services the doctors provide.

Medicare Eligibility

Medicare enrollment takes place only one time during the year. The time frame usually is between October and December of the year prior to its activation for an individual. To learn more of the enrollment process for Medicare, read this publication: http://www.medicare.gov/Default.asp .

Most individuals understand that to enroll one must be age 65 years or older. However, most may not know that they also must be eligible for receiving Social Security or Railroad retirement. Furthermore, the individual does not need to be receiving either one of the retirement payouts, but one must be eligible to receive them.

In short, you can receive Medicare without receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement income. You probably know someone who has decided to continue working. As such, they have delayed their receipt of government retirement payouts. However, to ensure a medical benefits plan, they have signed up for Medicare.

When you sign up for Social Security or Railroad retirement at age 65, or decide to receive payments at 65, you are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B.

If an individual under 65 is disabled, and has applied for and receives Social Security disability for two years will receive Medicare. Furthermore, if a person of any age with end-stage renal disease may also receive Medicare.

Anyone born after 1938 will not receive their full retirement benefits from Social Security until the age of 67. Due to this, most individuals may decide to continue working. As such they will not apply for Social Security at the age of 65, thus not automatically receiving Medicare Part A.

Or, if the person is under a group plan, he or she may be forced into enrollment in Medicare at the age of 65. The person will not lose their group coverage, but it will be shared with Medicare.

I Have A Group Plan

Returning to the previous situation where an individual continues to work, or not retire, and not having a group plan, he or she may not receive a reminder to sign up for Medicare Part A. Fortunately, there will not be any penalties. However, he or she will only be allowed to sign up during a specified period during the year.

As for Medicare Part B, there is a penalty. You must sign up for Medicare Part B either three months before or after your 65th birthday. Otherwise, a penalty will be assessed against the premiums. However, if a person is covered under equivalent group coverage or is on Medicaid, the penalty is waived.

Though Medicare Part A is paid via payroll deductions and there is not cost when implemented, this is not the case with Medicare Part B. Medicare Part B is a cost-sharing plan.

The premiums for Medicare Part B are $88.50 (for year 2006). However, these premiums increase every year as the cost of medical services increase. Beginning in 2007, for those individuals in high-income brackets, they will pay a higher premium as a percentage for Medicare Part B.

The increases are phased in over a five-year period. The increases are scheduled as such:

  • income of: $80,000 -$100,000: 65% subsidy
  • income of: $100,000-$150,000: 50% subsidy
  • income of: $150,000-$200,000: 35% subsidy
  • income above: $200,000: 20% subsidy

If you are married, the incomes are twice what are depicted. However, for both individuals and married couples, the income ranges increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

I’m Not Eligible for Social Security

What about those individuals who are not eligible for Social Security and their spouse is not eligible either? That person can still get Medicare but will pay a premium, which may be equivalent to the Medicare Part A premium.

Eligibility for Social Security requires at least 10 years, or 40 quarters, under the system or paying into the system.

You do not have to participate in the Medicare program. However, if a person does not participate in Part A, they are not allowed to participate in Part B. If the person, though, must pay premiums for Part A, they can elect not to, and instead purchase Part B. It also works the other way. If you do not desire to participate in Part B, you do not have to.

To sign up for Part B, it must be done so during the first three months before the month of an individual’s 65th birthday, or three months after. This equates to seven months to sign up (3 months before and after, and the individual’s birthday month).

If an individual does not sign up for Medicare Part B during the initial period, they are penalized. The penalty is 10% for each full 12-month period the individual does not sign up. A person can sign up for Part B between January 1 and March 31 if they do not sign up during their initial enrollment period – the seven months mentioned earlier.

Can I Afford Not To Have Medicare Part B?

But what of the individual who cannot afford the premiums for Medicare Part B? Most individuals who are affected in this manner may be able to receive assistance through Medicaid or a state’s Medicare Savings Program. Normally, someone must meet the state’s requirement of limited income and resources. The plan will pay for Medicare premiums and possibly Medicare deductibles and coinsurance.

A situation which may help with understanding may include a person who receives Medicare Part A (which the Medicare Savings Program might pay the premium) and

He or she has resources equal to or less than $4,000; a couple would be $6,000. The resources may include monies in checking or savings account, stocks or bonds.

He or she has a monthly income of less than $1,068; a couple would be $1,426 (as of 2005; Alaska and Hawaii have higher limits).

If you are an individual that is 65 or older and still working with a group insurance plan, there are solutions to Medicare Part B. Most individuals under this scenario will continue with their group plan and use Medicare Part A as their secondary, or supplemental, insurance. However, they may not need the Part B.

But what if they do need Part B? As mentioned earlier, would they not be penalized if they signed up later? There are special rules for someone under a group insurance plan that allows them to sign up for Part B without a penalty.

If an individual is retired but has continued with a group plan under an agreement with the company, there are waivers to allow for coverage of Part B. However, the waiver only takes effect if the person loses their group coverage in the future.

If you are one of the aforementioned individuals who need to take advantage of these waivers for Medicare Part B, then you will need to apply during the Special Enrollment Period.

For information on Medicare plan N click here.

Judd Cole