Federal Appeals Court Rules Retirees Can't Dodge Their Medicare Eligibility

A federal appeals court has ruled that those over age 65 and eligible for Social Security can’t escape their automatic entitlement to Medicare Part A benefits unless they repay all the Social Security funds paid to them.  

The government is usually sued because people want more, not fewer, benefits.  But in this case, three retired federal employees who have reached age 65 and are receiving Social Security – including Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey --  sued because they want to disclaim their legal entitlement to Medicare Part A coverage, which pays for care in institutions like hospitals.  Why?  Because their private insurance plans limit coverage for those who can get coverage from Medicare.  If they can shed their eligilibility for Medicare, the retirees claim they would get superior coverage from the private insurers.

Last year, a U.S. district court judge ruled against Armey and his fellow retirees, and they appealed.  Now they have lost again.  On February 7, 2012, a majority of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that while the retirees have every right to refuse Medicare payment for services, they remain legally entitled to them because they signed up for Social Security.  The two judges in the majority, both Republican appointees, pointed out that while entitlement to Social Security is optional because an application must be filed in order to receive the program’s benefit, no such application is required for Medicare Part A. 

“Congress could have made entitlement to Medicare Part A benefits depend on an application,” the court majority wrote. “But Congress instead opted to make entitlement to Medicare Part A benefits automatic for those who receive Social Security benefits and are 65 or older.”

The retirees vowed to appeal.  "To say that you can't decline Medicare Part A and not opt out of Social Security is outrageous," their attorney, Kent Brown, told the Associated Press, which reports that the case is being funded by a group called The Fund For Personal Liberty.  Two other plaintiffs in the suit are wealthy individuals who are not yet eligible for Social Security but wish to be able to receive Social Security benefits without becoming entitled to Medicare Part A benefits. 

To read the court's decision, including the dissenting opinion, click here.