Thanks to an error at the Social Security Administration, at least 250,000 Medicare beneficiaries may receive bills for premiums they thought they already paid. But the bill is not an error or a scam. Seniors really do owe the money. The Social Security Administration failed to deduct payments from some seniors’ accounts, causing their balances to accumulate.
Could the Social Security Error Affect You?
The problem began when a “processing error” in January caused the Social Security Administration to not deduct premiums from some seniors’ bank accounts. It also didn’t pay various Medicare insurance plans. The error affects Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C) and Medicare prescription drug plans (Medicare Part D).
As a result of the error, many seniors must now dig for money to fund the debt. Some may have believed that they already paid the premiums, and therefore spent the money on other expenses.
Both Medicare and Social Security assert that correct deductions and payments should resume within a month or two. Insurers must directly bill members for any unpaid premiums.
Is Your Coverage in Danger?
Some members may see their premiums canceled, especially if they can’t come up with the money to pay the outstanding balance. So if you receive a notice, it’s important to contact your insurer and/or Medicare to address the issue.
Several media outlets, as well as members of Congress, have been critical of the Social Security Administration for its lack of transparency as to how this error will affect beneficiaries. A notice on the Medicare website provides no details about how or why the error occurred, what might prevent it from recurring in the future, or what seniors should do if they cannot afford to pay their premiums.
Representative Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, sent a letter to Medicare and Social Security on May 22, but as of this writing, has received no response. Social Security continues to refer questions to Medicare. So what has happened, who is affected, why they are affected, or what will happen to those whose coverage has been canceled or is in jeopardy, remains unclear.
What to Do Next
If you receive a notice, ensure that it comes from Medicare or Social Security. These notices are not a scam, but it’s possible that scammers might eventually try to take advantage of the errors. Some signs of a scam include not using your correct name, odd language, misspellings, or threats. If you’re not sure, check the number listed on the letter, and then ensure that it matches the number listed online for the office from which the letter purports to come.
Once you’ve verified that the letter is real, pay your insurer as quickly as you are able, even if doing so means putting the bill on a credit card. A plan cancellation could affect your insurance coverage, and might take months to fix, particularly given how slow Social Security has been to provide answers and information. If you can’t pay, or need more time to pay, try contacting Medicare or your insurer.
For in-person help, visit your local Medicare office.
Going forward, check your bank account each month to ensure that monthly plan premiums are deducted. You’re still liable to pay these premiums, even if Social Security makes an error. So be mindful of these payments, and factor them into your budget.