When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who turned 65 on Monday, announced that he won’t enroll in Medicare
— the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older — he joined a very small minority.
Romney's decision sounds simple enough. Instead of relying on Medicare for his health coverage, he will keep his private health insurance plan. But there's a wrinkle: Although he certainly can afford it, Romney might face a hefty penalty if he changes his mind.
Who Enrolls in Medicare
Nearly everyone over 65 is automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A, the program that covers hospital care and does not cost its beneficiaries anything. If you enroll in Social Security — which Romney has also chosen not to do — you are automatically entitled to Medicare Part A coverage as well, according to a recent court ruling.
Beyond that, 95 percent of Americans over 65 enroll in and pay for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient care, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation
. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B in 2012 is $99.90.
The Penalty Romney Could Owe
The leading Republican candidate will still be eligible for Medicare Part B in the future. But if he has a change of heart and decides to enroll after June, he’ll likely get socked with a 10 percent late-enrollment penalty. That extra charge kicks in if you don’t sign up for Medicare during the seven-month enrollment period surrounding your 65th birthday.
How Romney Would Change Medicare
Romney wants to stretch out the Medicare eligibility age for all Americans, starting in 2022, when today’s 55-year-olds will turn 65, as Bob Rosenblatt wrote in the Next Avenue article “Will You Have to Wait Past Age 65 to Get Medicare?”
Under his plan, the Medicare age would gradually go up by one month a year, topping out at age 67. Romney would also index the eligibility age for Medicare (and Social Security) to Americans’ longevity.
In addition, Romney has said that he thinks wealthier Americans should pay more
for their Medicare benefits “so lower-income seniors would receive the most generous benefits.” And he has proposed offering “premium support” — money that you could use to pay either for Medicare or for private insurance.
Have Other Candidates Declined Medicare?
Romney is the only current presidential candidate over 65 who has decided not to enroll in Medicare.
According to The Wall Street Journal
, Newt Gingrich has a Medicare Advantage plan, run by Blue Cross Blue Shield. And Ron Paul has a Blue Cross Blue Shield employee health plan through the federal government. Rick Santorum, 53, and Barack Obama, 50, are too young to be faced with the decision.
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