Many people enroll in Medicare as soon as they can, unless they have creditable coverage from an employer or other source. Why? Often, it’s because they’re looking to avoid Medicare late enrollment penalties. This year, due to ongoing issues at the Social Security Administration, Medicare has decided to extend a grace period for anyone who isn’t enrolled in Parts A and B but is eligible to do so. This will assist a number of people who would have otherwise been hit with a late enrollment penalty.

Why Is There a Freeze on Medicare Late Enrollment Penalties?

In 2022, the Social Security Administration (SSA) started modernizing their phone system. Unfortunately, the process hasn’t been perfect, and there have been reports of callers experiencing issues. When calling, some people have received a busy signal instead of a phone operator, while others have been accidentally disconnected from the call.

Many people enroll in Medicare through the SSA phone service and have had issues or have experienced delays that resulted from the phone issues.

So, why has this influenced Medicare late enrollment penalties? Many people enroll in Medicare through the SSA phone service and have had difficulty or experienced delays resulting from the phone issues. To give a late pentalty to those trying to enroll in Medicare Parts A or B but can’t due to circumstances out of their control is unfair. So, Medicare has decided to create a grace period for these individuals.

Who Is Eligible?

Not everyone is eligible to utilize this grace window. In order to not receive a late penalty, you must meet three essential criteria:

  • You are eligible for Medicare between January 1, 2022, and December 30, 2022, but couldn’t enroll because of issues with SSA’s phone system.
  • You haven’t signed up for Medicare yet.
  • You enroll in Medicare before December 30, 2022.

Medicare.gov states, “If you sign up by December 30, 2022, the time between when you would have enrolled if you’d been able to contact Social Security in 2022 and when you’re able to sign up, won’t count towards a late enrollment penalty.”

Example: Joe turned 65 in March 2021, but, due to some confusion, didn’t enroll in Medicare Part B by the time his Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) ended in June 2021. Due to how late enrollment for Part B works, he’d accrue a late penalty of 10 percent on his premium in June 2022. To prevent this, Joe attempted to sign up for Medicare Part B during the 2022 General Enrollment Period (GEP), which runs from January 1 to March 31 and allows beneficiaries to enroll in Part B if they didn’t during their IEP and don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. Unfortunately, due to the SSA phone system issues, Joe’s unable to enroll by the end of GEP, but he tries again during the Annual Enrollment Period in October and succeeds. In this case, Joe would not owe a Part B late penalty.

Tips for Contacting the SSA

Trying to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B and experiencing issues connecting with the SSA? Here are their suggestions:

  • Don’t call back right away, since this can make the issue worse for the call service.
  • Consider calling during non-peak times, like
    • Between 8 AM and 10 AM local time
    • Between 4 PM and 7 PM local time
    • Wednesday through Friday
    • Later in the month
  • If you have a scheduled call appointment, wait for the representative to call you.
  • Use the online portal for many of the services that are available there.

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Bottom line, if you’re eligible for Medicare and don’t have creditable coverage, sign up when you can! It can alleviate plenty of stress and any risk of incurring a late enrollment penalty. Another way you can get rid of stress when enrolling in a Medicare plan is by working with a licensed insurance agent who can guide you through the process and help you find a fitting Medicare plan. If you have the support and are forward-thinking, you should be able to avoid a late enrollment penalty, regardless of any technical issues you may encounter. That said, it certainly is reasonable and beneficial to have protections in place for those who aren’t able to enroll on time due to circumstances outside of their control.