Dear Rusty: I am a Veteran and all my Medical needs are covered by the VA. Why should I be paying for Medicare out of my monthly SS check?
Signed: Inquiring Veteran
Dear Inquiring Veteran: Well, it depends upon how comfortable you are that the VA will be able to provide ALL the medical services you may ever need, emergency or otherwise, for the rest of your life. I, too, am a veteran and receive some of my care — such as wellness exams, blood tests, some prescription drugs, and immunizations — from the VA, but I also have Medicare to cover other services which are not typically available on an immediate basis from the VA. The point is, there will almost surely be times when you won’t be able to rely on the VA for needed immediate care or certain specialized services from specific medical experts, and if you don’t have Medicare you may find yourself facing some very large medical expenses for which you will be personally responsible. That’s where Medicare will help because nearly every medical facility and healthcare service in the country accepts patients with Medicare. And being immediately accepted as a Medicare patient anywhere in the country, anytime of day or night must certainly have some value for you. After all, none of us know what our health future will be.
Since you’re now collecting Social Security I assume you’re already enrolled in Medicare Parts A & B, and you’re questioning why you should continue to pay the Part B premium. Medicare Part B is coverage for doctors and other outpatient services, while Medicare Part A provides hospitalization coverage. There’s a premium for Part B ($135.50/month in 2019), but Part A is free if you also qualify for Social Security. And, by the way, you must have Medicare Part A to collect Social Security after you’re 65. For information, VA coverage for drugs is considered “creditable” as an alternative to Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. But other VA healthcare coverage is not a “creditable” alternative to Part B by Medicare’s standards, so it won’t count for avoiding a late enrollment penalty if you drop Part B now and decide afterwards to re-enroll.
Unless you have other “creditable” healthcare coverage from your or your spouse’s employer after dropping Part B, re-enrolling later will result in you being assessed a late enrollment penalty of 10% on top of the Part B premium amount, recurring every year, for each full year you go without Part B coverage. That penalty doesn’t go away, and It will go up as the Medicare Part B premium increases (which it does from time to time).
Additionally, you will be restricted when you can later re-enroll and when your coverage will start again. For clarity, if you have other “creditable” (not VA) coverage you can drop Part B, save the premium, and re-enroll in Part B again later without penalty (when your other “creditable” coverage ends). But if you don’t, you may find your healthcare options limited and you’ll incur penalties for re-enrolling in Part B later.
Obviously the choice is yours to make, but I suggest you consider the above points carefully when making your decision about whether to drop Medicare Part B and rely only on the VA only for your healthcare coverage. That’s not to take anything away from the excellent healthcare services offered by the VA, but only to make sure you’re aware of the risks associated with dropping Medicare Part B.
Rusty Gloor is a certified Social Security adviser with the Association of Mature American Citizens. Submit questions at firstname.lastname@example.org