Saturday, January 3, 2009

Medicare Part B Open Season is Here

If you are eligible for Medicare Part B medical insurance, but didn’t sign up when you first became eligible for Medicare, you will have another opportunity to apply. Open season for Medicare Part B runs from January 1 until March 31, 2009. Act early — if you miss the deadline, you will have to wait until 2010 to apply.

Medicare Part B covers some medical expenses not covered by Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), such as doctors’ fees, outpatient hospital visits, and other medical services and supplies.

When you first become eligible for hospital insurance (Part A), you have an initial enrollment period of seven-months in which to sign up for medical insurance (Part B)—three months before, the month of, and three months after reaching age 65. After that, you have to pay a higher premium for Part B unless the reason you declined Part B was because you were covered through an employer's group health plan or a group health plan based on a spouse's employment. In that case, you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period which allows you to sign up for Part B at any time, as long as you are currently covered under an employer’s group health plan, either through your current employer or your spouse’s employer -- a retiree plan does not qualify.

You are given another opportunity to enroll in Part B during the general enrollment period, from January 1 to March 31 of each year. But each 12-month period that you are eligible for Medicare Part B and do not sign up, the amount of your monthly premium increases by 10 percent. (This monthly premium increase does not apply if you qualify and enroll during the Special Enrollment Period.)

Medicare is made up of four parts:

  1. Hospital insurance (Part A) that helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (following a hospital stay), some home health care and hospice care;
  2. Medical insurance (Part B) that helps pay for doctors’ services and many other medical services and supplies that are not covered by hospital insurance;
  3. Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans are available in many areas. People with Medicare Parts A and B can choose to receive all of their health care services through one of these provider organizations under Part C; and
  4. Prescription drug coverage (Part D) that helps pay for prescription medications.

In addition, some people with limited income and resources may qualify for extra help to pay for monthly premiums, annual deductibles and co-pays related to their Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D). You can learn more about the extra help at:

You can learn more about Medicare by reading our electronic booklet, Medicare at You can also call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to ask for a copy. Or visit the Medicare website at You can also call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).

Just remember, the Medicare Part B open season runs from January 1 to March 31, 2009.

By Linda Zamfino
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Oakland, CA

No comments: