Pass the BENES Act to Simplify Medicare Enrollment

Pass the BENES Act to Simplify Medicare Enrollment

Last week U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, pushed for passage of the Medicare Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act during a hearing, “Turning 65: Navigating Critical Decisions to Age Well.” This was introduced as H.R. 2575 last year.

The bipartisan BENES Act (S. 1909) would ensure that fewer people miss the deadline to enroll in Medicare, which can lead to gaps in health coverage and costly penalties. It would mandate that every American receives a notice when they are approaching 65 years-old to explain when to sign up for Medicare and what can happen if they delay enrollment.

In 2014, 750,000 people with Medicare were paying a lifetime late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part B. The average penalty amounts to almost a 30% increase in a person’s monthly Medicare premium, and most people are paying these penalties because they don’t know the rules and made an honest enrollment mistake.

For people who are not auto-enrolled in Medicare, there is virtually no communication that provides education on when and how to enroll in Medicare or what may result from delayed enrollment. As a result, many advocates hear from older adults and people with disabilities who wrongly believed that because they had existing insurance, like COBRA benefits, retiree insurance, or a Marketplace plan, they did not need to enroll in Part B. These individuals often face severe consequences that prevent them from receiving urgently needed health care.

The BENES Act significantly alleviates these challenges. S. 1909 fills long-standing gaps in notice and education for those approaching Medicare eligibility and aligns and simplifies Part B enrollment periods. Taken together, these changes will help prevent costly enrollment slipups among the 10,000 people becoming Medicare eligible each day.

Please join us in contacting your Senators and urging their support in passing the BENES Act (S. 1909).

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.