Medicare deduction delayed

Personal Finance

Your Money

December 12, 2006|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,Sun Columnist

Juri Kiima is still waiting to pay.

Readers might recall that the 69-year-old Parkville resident complained months ago that the premiums for Medicare's prescription drug program were not being deducted from his Social Security check, as he had asked. He called Medicare, Social Security and the drug plan, wanting to pay for the coverage he was getting. No luck.

At that time, Medicare said about 150,000 consumers were in the same boat as Kiima. The agency expected the problem to be fixed in September or October.

But as of last week, Kiima still hadn't had his premiums taken out of Social Security. He recently told his drug plan to send the bill for the whole year - $420.48 - directly to him.

"I like order in my life," says the retired gas station owner. "I don't want to think about it anymore."

Medicare spokesman Jeff Nelligan says the agency continues to work on the problem. The number of retirees with premium glitches was down to 37,000 at the start of the month, he says. And when premiums finally do catch up, most of the time the bill is less than $200.

Most important, Nelligan says, no one has been denied coverage because of premium snags.

Arnold Eppel, director of the Baltimore County Department of Aging, suggests consumers in Kiima's situation contact their local senior health insurance program (SHIP) counselor for help in resolving the problem.

Experts a year ago were advising retirees to have premiums deducted from Social Security checks for convenience.

Deane Beebe, spokeswoman with the Medicare Rights Center in New York, says her group took no stand on the issue last year. But now it is advising consumers against this practice after hearing stories of wrong or no premiums being subtracted.

"As long as the Medicare prescription drug benefit is going to be delivered by dozens of private plans, the opportunity for problems with data transfer is great," she says.

Eppel says Marylanders eligible for the state's drug premium assistance program should not sign up for Social Security deductions. The state sends $25 a month directly to the plan. He says consumers will end up overpaying if they have full premiums deducted from their checks. They will then have to seek a rebate.

Open enrollment runs through the end of this month. Beebe and Eppel say retirees need to review their plans, even if they expect to stay with them. Plans next year might not cover the same drugs. Or, they might replace brand-names with generics. Premiums might also be going up.

You can get stuck next year with a plan that doesn't cover your drugs if you don't double-check.

For Megan, the question is not how much to tip, but how.

The Exton, Pa., resident writes: "I have ... good garbage men, but rarely ever see them. (They come when I'm not at home.) It seems tacky to tape a gift to the garbage can. How am I supposed to get the tip to them?"

You can tape a note to the garbage can or inside the lid to let trash collectors know to look for their tip in your mailbox. Baltimore City workers say customers sometimes tape an envelope with a tip to the inside lid of the garbage can. Or, some people wrap a gift and place it on top of the trash and then cover it with a lid.

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