Bipartisan bill aims to fix a costly Medicare enrollment mistake

A bipartisan bill in the House aims to fix a costly enrollment mistake that some older adults make when they transition to Medicare from an employer-based health plan.

Under current rules, workers age 65 or older who leave their job but keep their company’s health insurance as allowed under federal law — the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA — can end up facing late-enrollment penalties for Medicare when they eventually sign up. And those fees, which are tacked onto monthly premiums, are generally life-lasting.

“This bill says anytime you’re on COBRA coverage and discover you should have enrolled in Medicare, you get a special enrollment period, your benefits start right away and you don’t pay a late enrollment penalty,” said Bonnie Burns, a consultant for California Health Advocates and a Medicare expert.

The bill, called the Medicare Enrollment Protection Act, also would require that if a COBRA insurer discovers the patient should be on Medicare, the claim cannot be denied, according to a congressional staffer for one of the bill’s sponsors.

However, the measure would not prevent a COBRA insurer from going after a patient to recoup benefits paid, which is something that currently can happen, Burns said.

“It doesn’t address that piece of the problem,” she said.

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