Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Applying for Social Security

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Q. As I am about to start receiving Social Security benefits, I find myself confused in regards to Medicare.

I am fully covered under my wife’s medical coverage for at least 10 more years, including dental, eye, etc.

Can I refuse the government Medicare Part A and all of the other options if I choose to? If so, is the correct form CMS-1763?

I have not received any payments thus far, as I opted to wait for full retirement at 66.

A. While you can refuse Medicare Part A coverage, I’m not sure why you’d want to do that. It won’t cost you anything, because you already paid for it through payroll deductions. You can turn down Part B, for which you’d have to pay the premiums. And CMS-1763 is the form you’d use to do that.

Just remember this: If you decline to be covered by Part B and later decide you want it, your premiums would be higher, much higher if you delayed that decision for a long time.

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Postponed retirement and FEHB

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Q. I am a Veterans Affairs Department term employee with 28 years of service, 57 years old. My term appointment has only been extended to Jan. 31, 2013, with a “continuation of ongoing research funds.” If research funds are not available to pay me past this date, I understand that I can retire under the MRA +10 provision and postpone receipt of my annuity until I am 60 to avoid the age reduction penalty. And, at that time, can re-enroll for Federal Employees Health Benefits since I will have been enrolled for the previous five years. If I choose not to retire but rather am terminated due to lack of funds, will I still be able to re-enroll in FEHB? I have been told that choosing the retirement option will affect eligibility for unemployment benefits, but I certainly don’t want to lose health coverage in retirement.

A. If you have been covered by the FEHB program for five consecutive years, retire and postpone the receipt of your annuity, you’ll be able to re-enroll in it when your annuity begins. If you are terminated and later apply for a deferred annuity, you wouldn’t be able to re-enroll in the FEHB program.

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Coverage rules for term employees

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Q: I am a term employee in the Labor Department covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. My term ends Dec. 20. I am also a surviving spouse of a federal employee who was covered under the Civil Service Retirement System. I elected to not take health insurance under the annuity about 15 years ago. I would like to continue my current coverage; can my coverage be converted to the annuity coverage? I am a career status employee with approximately 13 years of federal service, 11 years under CSRS, and I elected not to be included in the Federal Employees Retirement System when I received my current two-year term appointment.

A: Unless you have a minimum of five years of continuous coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program when you are separated from the government, you will not be able to continue that coverage. However, under the temporary continuation of coverage provision of law, you would be offered the opportunity to maintain that coverage for up to 18 months at your own expense, plus 2 percent.

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Health care in retirement

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Q: I intend to retire Dec. 31 from the Department of Health and Human Services. I have had a family health insurance plan (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) for 20-plus years. My wife is a federal government employee. We want to transfer coverage from my agency to her agency (Labor Department) during the open season.

First, how do we make sure that the transfer of payment for coverage and the policy will assure that the five-year required continuous coverage is maintained? Second, if we are able to transfer and maintain continuous coverage, will my wife’s plan be my primary insurance after retirement, with Medicare secondary?

A: As long as you are enrolled in or covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for five years, you may continue that coverage into retirement. It doesn’t make any difference who is carrying the self and family enrollment. If you are still working when you become eligible for Medicare, your FEHB plan would be primary and Medicare secondary. If you aren’t working, Medicare would be primary and FEHB secondary.

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Coverage gap for children over 22

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Q: We are on the federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan, and our son will turn 22 evidently before the extension comes into effect. I understand that he gets a month of courtesy coverage, which would expire on Dec. 22. So, what do we do for the additional nine or 10 days to keep him covered?

A: He will be offered an opportunity to continue his coverage under the Temporary Continuation of Coverage provision in the current law. The cost of that coverage would be 100 percent of the monthly premium, plus an additional 2 percent for administrative costs. Note: The Office of Personnel Management is working with Congress to amend the law to allow dependents such as your son to be covered sooner than Jan. 1, 2011. If that happens, you won’t have a problem.

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