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Retiring after 65? Expect Enrollment Delays

Today’s video reports on several unfortunate client experiences all common to one Social Security office in Florida. We want people who are planning to retire after their Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) ends to factor potential Special Enrollment Period (SEP) delays into their retirement planning. We are not going to name the specific Florida office because we suspect it is seriously understaffed. And, in the end, after many weeks of intervention, two members of the staff came to our assistance.

Anyway, all three of our clients were looking to enroll in Medicare Part B through a Special Enrollment Period which typically involves submitting two forms to one’s local Social Security Office. We have handled these matters for many years and for many years we suggested clients either submit these forms on the first of the month prior to their requested enrollment date (to coincide with the end of active group coverage) or the month prior. One issue with submitting six weeks or more in advance is that one might be enrolled before the requested effective date and incur an extra month of Part B premiums. There was nothing unusual about the situations each of our clients faced. One woman retired and was losing group coverage; the other woman had also retired so she and her husband had to transition to Medicare. All three clients had only one employer since turning 65 so just two forms for Social Security to process.

The SEP forms for one client were submitted November 4, 2022 and requested a January 1, 2023 effective date. The other couple’s forms were submitted November 9, 2022 and requested a January 1, 2023 effective date. In early December, our staff confirmed receipt of all forms and were told enrollments would be processed no later than January 9, 2023. This seemed an extraordinary length of time based on our experience and delays impact a private Medicare supplement enrollment and cause a great deal of anxiety for the applicant. Delays also make our work much more inefficient as clients and staff are regularly checking Medicare’s Coordination of Benefits line and/or mymedicare.gov sites to determine if Part B has been processed.

On January 9, with no progress apparent, I contacted several people at CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who responded immediately. On January 16, still with no progress, I contacted CMS representatives again who assured me that they would follow-up with their Social Security Administration contacts the next day. I also contacted the Atlanta Regional Office to which this Florida office reports, and left a voicemail message. January 16 was Martin Luther King Day so no one was in the office. An individual from the Atlanta Regional Office returned my call on Tuesday but at that point we were on a path toward resolution.

On the morning of January 17, one of our staff traveled to this office and found a long line of people waiting to enter. She rather boldly went to the front of the line and asked for a business card for someone in authority. Apparently, the individual managing door traffic was the Acting Manager of the Office. I sent him an email describing our dilemma and he responded immediately and recommended I contact a colleague. That individual was also very responsive and asked if I could forward our client’s information rather than have the staff search for it. I forwarded the information encrypted to him and all three client’s Part B enrollment appeared online the next morning, January 18, 2023.

We have had client’s SEP paperwork misplaced by Social Security offices all over the country for many years. However, because we stay on top of the process and always have tracking showing when and how the forms arrived, we have followed up after several weeks and misplaced paperwork has typically been found and enrollments processed in under four weeks. Matters were more challenging at the height of the pandemic but have never taken more than two months.

This experience has given me new insight into the Telephone Problem Special Enrollment Period we learned about that was in effect last year. I was initially skeptical but, clearly, many offices are struggling. One obvious problem is that you can’t tell which offices are struggling. And some offices are very efficient. In Danbury, Conn., at about this time, we had a couple’s Part B appear online the day after our clients delivered the forms there. And in Stamford, Conn., we had a client’s Part B appear online the day after forms were submitted earlier last year.

In sum, there don’t appear to be operational standards in place for Social Security. As a result, one must plan ahead and stay on top of any enrollment with total tenacity. And, honestly, it seems there should be a mechanism for Social Security staff in an office that is current to help an office that is suffering with a backlog. After all, when someone applies online through an IEP, the application can go to any office.

In early July, 2021, President Biden terminated Andrew Saul, a Trump appointee, who was the Social Security Administration Commissioner as well as Deputy Commissioner David Black. The White House Statement was:

“Since taking office, Commissioner Saul has undermined and politicized Social Security disability benefits, terminated the agency’s telework policy that was utilized by up to 25 percent of the agency’s workforce, not repaired SSA’s relationships with relevant Federal employee unions including in the context of COVID-19 workplace safety planning, reduced due process protections for benefits appeals hearings, and taken other actions that run contrary to the mission of the agency and the President’s policy agenda.”

Many Republican officials suggested the terminations were politically motivated.

All we can say is, all is not well at Social Security. Those who transition to Medicare using a Special Enrollment Period are typically people who have worked and paid payroll taxes for decades. As a result, they help support the system for many who don’t pay in at all or pay in for a relatively short period of time. Of course, if one pays in more, one’s Social Security retirement benefit is higher but these Americans also help support Medicare by paying Medicare payroll taxes their entire working lives. Not only are they paying Medicare payroll taxes longer than others, even if they’ve enrolled in Part A it is typically secondary to their active group coverage so they are paying into the Medicare Trust Fund but unlikely to tap Medicare Part A benefits. The fact is that every American deserves timely service from the Social Security Administration but our recent experience suggests that you can’t count on it.

I will be writing to the Acting Commissioner and will let you know what comes of that.

Sorry for this lengthy piece but it’s an important issue. Please watch the video and take good care!