Navigating Medicare as a Widow

medicare widow

Understanding the benefits available under Medicare as a widow can be daunting. You may struggle to understand how to leverage this important insurance coverage.

Can you enroll in Medicare even if you didn’t work out of the home? How and when do you sign up for Medicare? And how much will it cost you?

Since this is a complicated subject, I’m including a lot of links for you to get more information.

Medicare Eligibility for Widows

If you earned 40 work credits (usually 10 years’ work) on your own work record, it’s simple – you’re eligible!

But did you know your deceased spouse’s work history can qualify you too? As long as you were married to a Medicare-eligible person for 1 year before their date of passing, you qualify. This is how my own mother qualified for Medicare benefits.

The good news is that, even if neither of those apply to you, you can still access Medicare. You’ll need to pay the Medicare Part A premium (more on that below) to get coverage.

You can check out the Medicare Eligibility tool for your specific situation.

Signing Up for Medicare

If you’re already receiving Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment is automatic. You’ll be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B effective the month you turn 65. Any Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan you want will need you to apply separately.

If you haven’t started Social Security, you need to sign up on your own! The window to enroll begins 3 months before your 65th birthday and continues for 7 months. Medicare calls this window your Initial Enrollment Period. Make sure you sign up, or else you may face a late enrollment penalty that increases your Part B premiums for life!

Widows with health insurance through work might be able to delay signing up for Part B. If your employer’s plan is the primary insurer, you can wait. If not, you need to sign up for Part B.

Also keep in mind that other special enrollment periods exist for disabled widows and people retiring from work.

How Much Medicare Costs You

For Part A, the monthly premium depends on how long you or your spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes. If you have 40 work credits, you should get Part A for no charge! Without enough credits, you can buy into Part A. In 2019, the premiums range from $240/month to $437/month, depending on how many work credits you have.

Medicare Part B requires most people to pay a monthly premium. For 95% of people, the standard premium for new enrollment in 2019 is $135.50.

For higher income individuals (greater than $85,000 for widows filing single in 2019), your premiums go up. This income-related monthly adjustment amount (IRMAA) ranges from an extra $54.10-$325/month. Don’t worry – the $325/month only applies if your income is over $500,000/year as an individual tax filer!

The Takeaway

Medicare can be overwhelming! I’ve covered the basics here, but many more nuances exist.

Get advice from a qualified professional. They can help you sort through the options for your specific situation. Make sure you maximize the benefits you and your spouse have earned!

For More Information

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