Social Security Phone System Delays Could Give You More Time To Enroll in Medicare — Learn How

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Seniors who haven’t been able to enroll in Medicare in 2022 because of phone system delays at the Social Security Administration can now ask for additional time to sign up, even if their enrollment periods have passed.

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As AARP reported this week, you can sign up for this special “equitable relief” by visiting a Social Security office or calling 800-772-1213. You also can contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program center. In all cases, you’ll just have to tell staff about the problems you’ve had getting through to someone on the phone.

“Social Security didn’t reopen their offices for walk-in appointments until early April, so people without internet access who couldn’t get through to Social Security over the phone had no recourse,” Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, told AARP, adding that her state’s SHIP center received numerous reports of people unable to reach Social Security because of the phone problems.

If you do sign up for equitable relief, you’ll have until Dec. 30 to enroll in Medicare. The extra time is especially important for those who missed the annual general enrollment period, which ended on March 31. Signing up for equitable relief can help you avoid late-enrollment penalties related to your initial or special enrollment periods.

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Seniors who ran up medical bills during the time they were eligible to be on Medicare can request retroactive Medicare coverage for as far back as Jan. 1. In this case, you’ll have to pay all premiums in a lump sum, though the amount can be deducted from your current Social Security benefits.

Most people get Part A free but must pay $170.10 a month for Part B, AARP noted. Single beneficiaries and married couples with higher incomes pay more. After receiving the retroactive coverage through equitable relief, you can ask your medical providers to resubmit the bills to Medicare.

If you want to sign up for Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription drug coverage, here’s what you need to know: After you’re notified of retroactive Medicare coverage, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will grant you a two-month special enrollment period to choose a plan.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you enroll in Medicare retroactively through the equitable relief program, you could lose several months of the Medicare supplemental insurance (Medigap) open enrollment period if you choose to sign up for it, AARP noted.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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