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Tips for Enrolling in Medicare During the Coronavirus Public Health Emergency

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Update 5/12/20: CMS has announced certain enrollment flexibilities. Relevant changes have been incorporated below.  

Original post 4/15/20: The Social Security Administration processes Medicare enrollment applications. During the coronavirus public health emergency, local Social Security offices are closed to the public, but many services are available online and over the phone.  

  • Online Medicare applications can be found and submitted here: https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/medicare/  
  • Answers to some questions can be found online, or you can call the national Social Security Administration helpline at 800-772-1213 
  • Local Social Security offices may also be able to help: find more information below

Many people can use the online application to apply for Medicare, particularly to enroll in Part A and Part B at the same time if they haven’t enrolled in Medicare before. However, not all Medicare applications can be completed online, and not everyone has access to a computer.      

If you cannot enroll in Medicare online, here is what you should do:  

  1. Contact your local Social Security office. Although local offices are closed to in-person appointments with the public, they should still be able to receive mail and process enrollment paperwork for those unable to apply online. Call your local office to learn about how to submit your enrollment paperwork. Contact information for local offices can be found by using the online field office locator. If you need more assistance, ask to speak with a supervisor. Keep a record of the name of any representative you speak to and the date and time of the conversation.
  2. Gather necessary paperwork. To enroll in Part B, first you should complete form CMS 40B, the application for Medicare enrollment.If you are outside your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) and you or your spouse or family member recently lost the job that provided you with health insurance, you will also need to submit form CMS L564.
  • An employer usually fills out Section B of the form. If your employer cannot fill out Section B, you can fill it out on their behalf.
  • If you fill out Section B for your employer, you will also need to submit proof of employment–based health insurance coverage. Examples of this proof include:
    • Income tax returns that show health insurance premiums paid
    • W-2s reflecting pre-tax medical contributions
    • Pay stubs that show health insurance premiums deducted
    • Health insurance cards that show the date the policy began
    • Explanations of benefits paid by the job-based insurance
    • Statements or receipts that show paid health insurance premiums
  1. Send paperwork to your local office by certified mail. When you use certified mail, you get a receipt and confirmation that your mail was delivered. You will have proof that you mailed in your application, which can be helpful in case there are any problems with your enrollment.  

If you cannot mail forms directly to your local Social Security office, you can also fax them to 1-833-914-2016.    

If you experience any issues with your local Social Security office, such as being told your enrollment cannot be processed, contact a U.S. Congressperson for your state.  Elected officials may be able to help you with your problem and may be interested in constituent stories that illustrate particular problems.    

Requesting more time to enroll in Medicare

Medicare has made temporary changes to a process called equitable relief so that individuals can request more time to enroll in Medicare Part B (or premium Part A). They can do so if:

  • They had an IEP, General Enrollment Period (GEP), or Part B Special Enrollment Period (SEP) between March 17, 2020 and June 17, 2020
    • IEP: Three months before, the month of, and three months after an individual’s 65th birthday month
    • GEP: January 1-March 31 each year if someone missed their IEP and does not qualify for a Part B Special Enrollment Period (see next bullet)
    • Part B SEP: Time during which someone is covered by insurance based on their, their spouse’s, or a family member’s current work, and up to eight months after the individual loses coverage because employment or insurance ends
    • And, they did not enroll in Medicare Part B (or premium Part A) or decline Part B during that enrollment period

The individual’s Medicare will be effective on the day it normally would have started if the individual had used their other enrollment period. For example, if someone uses equitable relief and they had the right to enroll during the GEP, their Medicare would be effective on July 1, 2020. July 1 is when the coverage would normally have been effective if the individual had enrolled in Medicare during the GEP between January and March.

To request equitable relief, an individual should submit their enrollment paperwork to Social Security by following the steps in this blog post. In the remarks section of form CMS 40B (the application for Medicare enrollment), the individual should write that they are requesting equitable relief. If the local Social Security office is unfamiliar with this form of equitable relief, the individual should ask to speak with a supervisor and share information from Medicare that explains this process.

If you have additional Medicare enrollment questions, call the Medicare Rights Center helpline at 800-333-4114. 

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