UNITED STATES—Dear Toni: I lost my job in October 2021 due to COVID layoffs in the oil industry and my wife and I are now enrolling in Medicare Part B since the company paid 18 months of COBRA is almost over. Now I am finding out that there will be a penalty for us by not enrolling when we should have!

I have never received a Medicare & You handbook to know how or when to enroll in Medicare properly. I was unaware of the Medicare rules until I began reading the Toni Says® Medicare column in the local newspaper.

We are now 70 years old and the Part B penalty for us is each 50% since it has been 5 years since we were 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part A. Please inform your readers how important it is to enroll at the correct time. Robert from Charleston, SC.

Hello Robert: There is an 8-month window to enroll in Medicare Part B for  a “Special Enrollment Period” when you are no longer employed full-time with company benefits without receiving the “famous” Medicare Part B penalty. There is not an 18-month window to enrolling in Part B when covered by COBRA. Waiting longer than 8-months will cause a Medicare penalty.

As you know these penalties can be extremely costly, and that penalty will last until you pass away or are no longer on Medicare.

IMPORTANT: Always, be sure that your Part B begins the day you lose your company benefits or the day your COBRA plan starts. Chapter 1 of the Medicare Survival Guide Advanced edition explains the rules of enrolling in Medicare the right way with a sub-chapter discussing enrolling in COBRA.

Many Americans who chose COBRA, then enroll in their Part B with a BIG SURPRISE like you have Robert. They find they are penalized because they could have had Part B but did not enroll properly. The penalty goes all the way back to the day he/she turned 65 with Medicare Part A or the day Medicare Part A began.

I have a 79- year- old client, who has always been on his wife’s company health plan. He never enrolled in Medicare’s Part B because his wife was the “working spouse,” but she lost her job. She was 62 and because she had health issues and the cost of COBRA was less than an individual health plan, she enrolled herself and her 79-year-old husband in COBRA. When COBRA ended 18months later, they went to Social Security to enroll him in Part B and were shocked!!!  His premium for Part B was not $164.90 for 2023. It was $164.90 plus $230.86 penalty for late enrollment for a total of $ 395.76 per month. This was a 140% penalty (79-65) which is 14 years x 10% each month for the rest of his Medicare life. You say, “Toni, how can this be?” And here is the answer… He did not enroll in “Part B” at the right time or the correct way!

Toni Says®: Always have Part B in place when leaving your job or losing your company benefits because the penalty goes back to the day you turn 65 and enrolled in Medicare Part A or the month your Part A began. There might not be a second chance! We at Toni Says® advise clients not to wait the whole 8-month Special Enrollment Window to enroll in Medicare Part B.

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