What is Medicare Part B? What does Medicare Part B cover? Medicare Part B helps pay for services from doctors and other health care providers, outpatient care, home health care, durable medical equipment, and some preventive services. Other parts of Medicare are run by private insurance companies that follow rules set by Medicare.Many people think of it as medical coverage, but it actually covers things both in and out of the hospital.
Eligibility for Medicare Part B
Anyone who is eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A is eligible for Medicare Part B by enrolling and paying a monthly premium. If you are not eligible for premium-free Medicare Part A, you can qualify for Medicare Part B by meeting the following requirements:
- You must be 65 years or older.
- You must be a U.S. citizen, or a permanent resident lawfully residing in the U.S for at least five continuous years.
You may also qualify for automatic Medicare Part B enrollment through disability. If you are under 65 and receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) disability benefits, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B after 24 months of disability benefits. You may also be eligible for Medicare Part B enrollment before 65 if you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
When to enroll in Medicare Part B
If you are receiving retirement benefits before age 65 or qualify for Medicare through disability, generally you’re automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B as soon as you become eligible.
If you do not enroll during your initial enrollment period and do not qualify for a special enrollment period, you can also sign up during the annual General Enrollment Period, which runs from January 1 to March 31, with coverage starting July 1. You may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for not signing up when you were first eligible.
If you’re not automatically enrolled, you can apply for Medicare through Social Security, either in person at a local Social Security office, through the Social Security website, or by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users 1-800-325-0778) from 7AM to 7PM, Monday through Friday.
Keep in mind that once you are both 65 years or older and have Medicare Part B, your six-month Medigap Open Enrollment Period begins. This is the best time to purchase a Medicare Supplement insurance plan because during open enrollment, you have a “guaranteed-issue right” to buy any Medigap plan without medical underwriting or paying a higher premium due to a pre-existing condition*. Once you are enrolled in Medicare Part B, be careful not to miss this one-time initial guaranteed-issue enrollment period for Medigap.
Delaying Medicare Part B enrollment
Some people may get Medicare Part A “premium-free,” but most people have to pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part B. Because Medicare Part B comes with a monthly premium, some people may choose not to sign up during their initial enrollment period if they are currently covered under an employer group plan (either their own or through their spouse’s employer).
If you are still working, you should check with your health benefits administrator to see how your insurance would work with Medicare. If you delay enrollment in Medicare Part B because you already have current employer health coverage, you can sign up later during a Special Enrollment Period without paying a late penalty. You can enroll in Medicare Part B at any time that you are still covered by a group plan based on current employment. After your employer health coverage ends or your employment ends (whichever comes first), you have an eight-month special enrollment period to sign up for Part B without a late penalty.
Keep in mind that retiree coverage and COBRA are not considered health coverage based on current employment and would not qualify you for a special enrollment period. If you have COBRA after your employer coverage ends, you should not wait until your COBRA coverage ends to sign up for Medicare Part B. Your eight-month Part B special enrollment period begins immediately after your current employment or group plan ends (whichever comes first). This is regardless of whether you get COBRA.
Medicare Part B premiums
Medicare Part B premiums may change from year to year, and the amount can vary depending on your situation. For many people, the premium is automatically deducted from their Social Security benefits.
The standard monthly Part B premium: $144.60 in 2020.
If your income exceeds a certain amount, your premium could be higher than the standard premium, as there are different premiums for different income levels.