Social security safari

So let’s say you’re 70 years old (70 is the new 40, but I’m just saying assume you are), and you obtained your Medicare part A (hospital) card when you turned 66 and change and further that your spouse has carried the health insurance for the family. Should you do anything further when your spouse retires as to Medicare part B (outpatient doctor’s bills)? Let’s further complicate the picture and say that you are going out of the country on a cruise or to Cancun; what should you do about Medicare coverage and/or bridge insurance? I was told by a former Social Security employee, Bonnie, who works for a lawyer in our office who does exclusively Social Security work, that you must apply for the part B card prior to your spouse’s date of retirement so that it coincides with your spouse’s date of retirement for you to be able to use your spouse’s insurance card as a secondary payer. If you haven’t (are your palms sweaty yet?), then you cannot use your spouse’s regular insurance as a secondary payer. If that is not enough to make you lose your lunch, you have to have applied no later than eight months after your spouse’s retirement date. So, I went to the Social Security office in Elgin and, I must tell you, it redefines the word daunting. This is the safari part.

You take a number at a kiosk and then take a seat with the rest of your fellow citizens. You are told you can do this online but, trust me, it is better to go there in person. I must tell you that the social security employees are extraordinarily knowledgeable and helpful. My hat is off to them. When your number is called, you are told to go to a window with a number where you meet the social security representative. It was there that the representative looked at me aghast when I told her that my wife retired in January and I had not yet applied for part B. I asked her how am I supposed to know this---I’m only a lawyer! She gave me the papers that I needed to complete, one of which has to be filled in by my wife’s employer. What made the situation tense was that we were going on an ISBA cruise for a couple of days in April, but I couldn’t qualify for the part B card until May. Hence, I entered the wonderfully scintillating world of bridge health insurance. There are many companies out there who will write a policy of health insurance for one week or more. Obviously this doesn’t cover pre-existing health conditions. I was eventually successful in obtaining my Medicare part B card.

One other bit of caution: Medicare doesn’t provide coverage outside the U.S.A! What!! Am I on candid camera? So, obviously, you should contact your secondary health insurance carrier to see if they will cover you when you are out of the country.

Hopefully, my experience on the social security safari will be of benefit to you intrepid travelers and lawyers of a certain age. One last bit of advice: before you turn 66, go to the local social security office and get a primer on what you should be doing. If you are older than 66 and change, run to the social security office. I know that you don’t want to take a number and sit and wait with your fellow citizens because you are special---YOU’RE A LAWYER!!!! Well, bunky, suck it up, put on your pith helmet, go to the social security office and get some Medicare advice. Also, follow up every document that you submit with a personal visit to the social security office. Don’t rely on the mail---but, what am I telling you---YOU’RE A LAWYER!!!! One note of caution: before you go, don’t eat lunch.

Have a happy social security safari. ■

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June 2013Volume 4Number 3PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)