A lot of misinformation is circulating about health insurance for senior citizens

When Annalis Hall retired from the Post Office in 2012 she was happy with her health insurance so she stuck with it. Hall, a postal worker for nearly 28, said she and her husband Bruce opted to stay on her employer’s health plan when she turned 65 and eligible for Medicare. What she didn’t know was that she could be penalized later on if she decided to enroll in a part of the Medicare plan (Plan B) that covers things like doctor’s visits and ambulance services.

She didn’t know until just recently, that is. Annalis learned that her former employer would no longer offer the plan that she and Bruce had been on. There were other plans her employer offered, but Annalis said it was time to consider taking Part B. That’s when she learned she would probably be subject to the penalty.

“When I signed up for Social Security I was told I didn’t need Medicare because I had health insurance from my employer,” said Annalis, 68. She also recalls being told she would not be penalized for failing to sign up for Part B after she became Medicare eligible.

“There’s a lot of misinformation — and sources of misinformation,” said Terri Haley, coordinator of services for Ontario County Office for the Aging.

“In general, there is a 10 percent penalty for every year you fail to enroll in Part B,” she said.

She added that for “every Medicare rule there are three to 11 exceptions.” So understanding Medicare and your options from a reliable source is crucial, she said.

Haley has been with Office for the Aging a long time, helping seniors navigate health insurance options and understand Medicare. The office offers free and unbiased help understanding Medicare and seniors' options. Haley said that this year, more than ever, she is hearing from people who got bad information.

“If I had known I would be penalized, I would have taken Part B at age 65,” Annalis said.

Todd Hamann of Victor, an independent health insurance broker, said he has been talking to a lot of seniors who just learned about the penalty. It’s not a surprise anyone wants, he said.

Haley said the Medicare system can be confusing, with different rules and guidelines — “different scenarios.” People can protect themselves and make the best choices by planning ahead and getting accurate information, she said.

“We are in a day and age when Medicare beneficiaries need to be informed consumers,” Haley said.

Office for the Aging offers free workshops and one-on-one counseling through a federally funded program. People are urged to register for Medicare 101 Workshops that are held every month.

The office also publishes a newsletter with information about workshops and other information for seniors. You can also call the office at 585 396-4040 or 315 781-1321.

The lowdown on Part B penalty

In most cases, if you don't sign up for Part B when you're first eligible, you'll have to pay a late enrollment penalty. You'll have to pay this penalty for as long as you have Part B. Your monthly premium for Part B may go up 10 percent for each full 12-month period that you could have had Part B, but didn't sign up for it. Also, you may have to wait until the General Enrollment Period (from Jan. 1 to March 31) to enroll in Part B. Coverage will start July 1 of that year.

Usually, you don't pay a late enrollment penalty if you meet certain conditions that allow you to sign up for Part B during a Special Enrollment Period.

If you have limited income and resources, your state may help you pay for Part A, and/or Part B. You may also qualify for Extra Help to pay for your Medicare prescription drug coverage.

SOURCE: Medicare.gov (https://bit.ly/2Rkpyr2)