Starting October 1, 2013, people who lack health insurance can start signing up for coverage through the new Internet-based health insurance marketplaces set up under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Most of those who don’t already have insurance will have to buy coverage by March 31, 2014 or pay a penalty.
But if you already have Medicare, you have nothing to worry about. You have coverage that will continue as before (better than before, in fact) and you don’t need to do anything. Any stranger who tries to tell you otherwise is likely trying to steal your personal information.
It’s all somewhat confusing because Medicare’s enrollment period for choosing or changing prescription drug or Medicare Advantage plans begins October 15 and ends December 7, overlapping with the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment period. (Click here for Medicare's Plan Finder.) Scammers are taking advantage of the confusiion to steal personal and financial information from Medicare recipients and others.
Some con artists, claiming to be from Medicare, are calling Medicare beneficiaries and telling them that because of Obamacare they need to get “a new Medicare card,” which requires them to divulge personal and banking information. If they don’t provide the information, the beneficiaries are told, their Medicare benefits will stop.
In point of fact, people age 65 and over who are on Medicare don’t need to do anything to continue getting their government benefits. Medicare coverage satisfies the new insurance requirement and a new “health care card” is not required. (And those under age 65 who already have health coverage don’t need to do anything, either.) Moreover, Medicare, like the IRS, will never contact beneficaires about any personal issues by phone or e-mail, but rather through regular mail.
“We want to protect Medicare beneficiaries and remind them their benefits aren’t changing, and the marketplace doesn’t require them to do anything differently,” a Medicare spokesman said.
It’s also against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a marketplace (also called an “exchange”) plan. Anyone who violates the law can be fined up to $25,000 or imprisoned for up to five years, or both.
If you receive a suspicious call, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol in your state.
Medicare coverage will actually improve for many beneficiaries as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Those receiving prescription drug coverage and stuck in the coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole" will get a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs covered under Medicare Part D. And health reform added some free preventive services to Medicare.
And the new health care marketplaces should be a big boon to the near-elderly -- those ages 50 to 64 -- one-fifth of whom went without health insurance for at least part of 2012. These individuals can sign up for coverage through the marketplaces without fear of being rejected for preexisting conditions, and the insurance should be more affordable than before. Many others in this age group are clinging to their jobs simply for the health insurance. The availability of affordable, guaranteed health coverage could allow them to start their own business, change employers, or retire.