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Medicare Telephone Problem Enrollment Period

I stumbled upon the topic for today’s video while doing a search on medicare.gov. I was surprised to learn there is a Special Enrollment Period available to anyone who experienced a telephone problem trying to reach Social Security to enroll in Medicare during 2022. A print screen from the medicare.gov site is attached below.

An affected individual can take advantage of this Special Enrollment Period through December 30th, 2022 (December 31st is a Saturday). Effective dates can be retroactive to January 1st, 2022 but relevant Part B premiums would have to be paid.

One would think Social Security would require documentation of some sort showing a call to Social Security but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

For many years, Social Security has provided information and service via its 800 number, as follows:

  • By calling 1-800-772-1213, you can use our automated telephone services to get recorded information and conduct some business 24 hours a day. If you cannot handle your business through our automated services, you can speak to a Social Security representative between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Apparently, this Enrollment Period was created due to complaints about telephone hold times and a concern that most Social Security offices didn’t reopen to in-person traffic until April, 2022. But the fact is the 800 number is staffed eleven hours a day from Monday through Friday.

As we’ve discussed so often, Medicare Part B enrollment penalties can be insanely punitive (in my opinion) and so I was surprised to see this extremely magnanimous approach. After all, when Social Security abruptly closed on March 17th, 2020 due to the pandemic, it was difficult to reach them but I don’t recall any Special Enrollment Period created for those for whom wait times for calls to the national 800 number may have been excessive. And local offices were closed for all of 2021.

I am a bit skeptical of this whole matter. Getting through to government agencies can be time-consuming but my staff and I have always been able to get through to Social Security – even in late March of 2020. Granted, it wasn’t easy but making an exception for people in 2022 is wacky because things were worse in 2020 and 2021. We applaud Social Security’s efforts to make local office telephone numbers available shortly after the beginning of the pandemic when offices were abruptly and totally closed to in-person traffic. Previously, the national 800 number, (800) 772-1213, was listed as the phone number for local offices (the actual local numbers were unpublished). Once offices reopened, some of these local office numbers remained published but some numbers have reverted back to the national line.

Although we have nothing tangible to suggest there is any funny business going on with this unexpected Special Enrollment Period, given the long history of harsh lifetime premium penalties for not following Medicare Part B enrollment rules, one does wonder whether this enrollment period might have been created for someone with very significant connections who missed their Initial or Special Enrollment periods.

In the U.S., we’ve struggled for the right approach to access to care and coverage forever. On the one hand, we want all to have access to healthcare. On the other hand, if one doesn’t exactly follow insurance rules (and access to care is enhanced by access to coverage), our system can be punitive and harsh both in terms of gaps in coverage and lifetime penalties (at least where Medicare is concerned).

There has to be a better way.

The following information is taken from medicare.gov (10/29/2022).

Find out if you’re eligible for extra time to sign up. You’re eligible if all of these apply:

  • You’re eligible to sign up for Medicare between January 1, 2022 – December 30, 2022 and were unable to because of problems with Social Security’s telephone system.
  • You haven’t signed up for Medicare yet.
  • You follow the steps below, and sign up for Medicare by December 30, 2022.
Late enrollment penalties
If you sign up by December 30, 2022, the time between when you would have enrolled if you’d been able to contact Social Security in 2022 and when you’re able to sign up, won’t count towards a late enrollment penalty. Get more information on costs and late enrollment penalties.