The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently expanded the functionality of the Medicare enrollment process to accommodate more online applications during the coronavirus pandemic.
Previously, only people applying for Medicare Parts A and B at the same time could use the online portal. People who were already enrolled in Part A and were using a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) or seeking Equitable Relief to enroll in Part B had to submit documentation to SSA in person or via fax—an option made available during the current public health emergency. Advocates, including the Medicare Rights Center, have long called for a user-friendly online tool to allow for Part B enrollment. We applaud CMS and SSA for introducing this improvement and urge its permanent adoption.
Under the modernized system, people who are eligible for a Part B SEP can now apply online. To qualify for this enrollment window, either they, their spouse, or sometimes a family member, must currently have or have recently lost a job that provided health insurance. Applicants must also upload proof of this job-based coverage, to show they have been consistently insured since becoming Medicare-eligible. Typically, people submit this documentation with Form CMS-L564, which their employer must fill out and sign. However, if people are unable to obtain their employer’s signature, as many are during the pandemic, they can supply other proof instead, including:
While this portal is a welcome update, additional Medicare enrollment improvements are still needed. Even with these changes in place, not all Medicare applications can be completed online, and not everyone has access to a computer or the ability to upload the required documents. It is critical that SSA offices have the capacity to assist with and process all enrollments, and that applicants have the information they need to make timely coverage decisions. During the public health emergency in particular, additional enrollment protections remain necessary.
The instructions for applying online are available here.
If you have questions about enrolling online, contact your local Social Security Office. Although many offices are currently closed to in-person appointments, SSA staff is available to assist enrollees by phone. Contact information for local offices can be found by using the online field office locator. You can also send your paperwork to your local office by certified mail, or fax it to 1-833-914-2016.
If you experience any issues with your local Social Security office, such as being told your enrollment cannot be processed, contact a U.S. Congressperson for your state. Elected officials may be able to help and may be interested in constituent stories that illustrate particular problems.
If you have additional Medicare enrollment questions, call the Medicare Rights Center helpline at 800-333-4114.
Read Medicare Rights’ blog post on Tips for Enrolling in Medicare During the Coronavirus Public Health Emergency.