BENES Act Featured at Senate Hearing Today as the Solution to Costly Medicare Enrollment Mistakes
—SHIP Program is Essential to Helping Older and Disabled Americans Navigate Medicare to Access the Affordable Health Care they Need—
Washington, DC—Today, the bipartisan, bicameral “Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act” was put forth as the legislative solution to costly Medicare enrollment mistakes at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing entitled, “What You Should Know Before Turning 65.”
Senator Bob Casey, Ranking Member of the Special Committee on Aging, has introduced the BENES Act in the Senate along with Senator Todd Young (R-IN). Senator Casey explained how the BENES Act would modernize the Medicare enrollment process, adding that in late December, over 70 organizations joined the Medicare Rights Center in sending a letter to House and Senate leaders urging them to pass the BENES Act immediately.
The BENES Act (S. 1909, H.R575) would ensure that people approaching Medicare eligibility receive a clear and detailed notice that explains Medicare Part B enrollment rules. It would also align and simplify Part B enrollment periods by bringing them in line with those of private insurance products, including Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans. At the same time, it would eliminate needless gaps in coverage for people new to Medicare.
“The Medicare Rights Center applauds Senator Casey for explaining at today’s hearing that people who are eligible for Medicare but make ‘honest mistakes’ regarding their enrollment suffer great consequences. As the senator makes clear, Congress must pass the BENES Act to prevent these enrollment problems from occurring,” said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a national nonprofit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities.
The consequences of Part B enrollment mistakes are significant—including late enrollment penalties, higher out-of-pocket health care costs, gaps in coverage, and barriers to accessing needed services. In 2014, an estimated 750,000 people with Medicare were paying a Part B Late Enrollment Penalty (LEP), with the average LEP amounting to nearly a 30% increase in their monthly premium.
“Every day on our national helpline, we hear that people are thoroughly confused about whether or not to enroll in Medicare, or that they didn’t enroll in Medicare Part B when they should have and are facing costly lifetime penalties, gaps in coverage, and going without needed care,” said Baker. “With 10,000 people turning 65 every day and more people working past the age of 65, the need for clear and timely Medicare enrollment information and aligning Medicare enrollment periods is critical, and that is exactly what the long overdue BENES Act would accomplish.”
The BENES Act was introduced into the House by Representatives Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA).
At today’s hearing, there was also consensus among the speakers that the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) should receive full funding, despite recent threats to the program. SHIPs offer personalized, one-on-one assistance in every state, which is vital to helping people with Medicare enroll in the coverage that is right for them. No other resource provides this essential help.
Read a one-page description of the BENES Act.
The archived hearing and witnesses’ testimony is available online.