Computer error results in unexpected Medicare bills
It seems like the simple, hassle-free way to pay your Medicare premiums: Have them withheld from your Social Security benefits.
But now, about 250,000 people who opted to have their Medicare premiums taken out of their Social Security checks are getting bills for as much as five months of unpaid premiums.
Because of “an isolated software issue,” the Social Security Administration says it failed to withhold Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription-drug plan premiums from some beneficiaries’ checks starting with January 2019 benefits, which were paid in February.
So the plans didn’t get their money — in some cases, from February through June — and will bill enrollees directly instead. People who enrolled in an Advantage or Part D plan for 2019 and asked to have their premiums deducted from their Social Security payments may be affected.
The glitch may sow confusion, financial stress and, in some cases, even coverage lapses among affected seniors, consumer advocates say.
“The system’s issue has been corrected,” a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said, and the agency is working with plans to reach out to affected enrollees. Premiums should be properly deducted from beneficiaries’ Social Security payments as of June or July.
If you’re not certain whether you’ve been affected, “call the plan proactively” to find out, advised Lindsey Copeland, federal policy director at the Medicare Rights Center.
If you get a bill that you can’t afford to pay, be aware that plans must allow enrollees to stretch past-due premium payments over a period at least as long as the delay in billing. Plans must also offer a grace period of at least two months before disenrolling members for failure to pay.
Some affected beneficiaries lost coverage but resolved the issue through their state health insurance assistance program, said Leslie Fried, senior director of the Center for Benefits Access at the National Council on Aging.
To find your local SHIP, go to shiptacenter.org or call 1-877-839-2675. Seniors who need help can also call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 or the Medicare Rights Center at 1-800-333-4114.
© The Kiplinger Washington Editors. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.