What does Medicare cover? Medicare & You, 2015

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a component of the Department of Health & Human Services, is the agency in charge of the Medicare program. Since the Social Security Administration is not directly responsible for Medicare, SSA employees cannot provide detailed information about Medicare coverage. Along with providing general information, the Social Security role with Medicare is to help people enroll in the program. 

The official Medicare website is at www.medicare.gov. The Medicare national toll-free phone number is 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) / TTY 1-877-486-2048. 

Detailed Medicare coverage information is in the annual publication Medicare and You. This official Medicare booklet contains a summary of Medicare benefits, coverage decisions, rights and protections, and answers to frequently asked Medicare questions.  

In October, CMS announced that the standard 2015 Medicare Part B (Medical) monthly premium is remaining at $104.90, the same as in 2014. The standard amount covers only about 25 percent of program costs so some people pay a higher Part B premium based on their IRS tax return modified adjusted gross income. Also unchanged from 2014, those 2015 premium amounts are here. Part B covers physicians’ services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment, and other items.  

General information about Medicare is at the Social Security Administration website, www.socialsecurity.gov. From the homepage, go to the Benefits tab and then to Medicare. The booklet, Medicare, (SSA publication 05-10043) is a good place to start.   

Medicare age remains 65. Certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare based on disability, including those having permanent kidney failure. People usually enroll in at least part of Medicare at age 65, even if not planning to start Social Security benefits yet. It takes only about 10 minutes to complete the online Medicare application.

Annual retirement earnings test amounts for 2015

Q: In 2015, how much can I earn before my Social Security retirement is reduced? 

A: The annual retirement earnings test concerns how your own employment earnings in a year affect your Social Security in that year. The earnings test includes only your personal gross wages or net self-employment for the full calendar year. Your other income or income of a spouse is not applicable.

Three annual earnings levels exist, all based on your full retirement age (FRA). FRA depends on your year of birth. Learn yours here. 

Earnings test amounts for 2015 have changed from 2014. They are: 

  • If under full retirement age (FRA) for the entire calendar year, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $2 earned above the 2015 limit of $15,720.
  • If you reach FRA in 2015, $1 in benefits will be deducted from each $3 earned above the 2015 limit of $41,880, but only for earnings before the month you reach FRA.
  • No earnings limit exists starting with the month you reach full retirement age.  

Are you starting Social Security retirement in 2015? People retiring mid-year may have already earned over the annual limit for their age. To allow the start of SSA retirement regardless of expected calendar year earnings, there is a special one-time rule based on monthly earnings. This applies for one year, usually the first year of retirement, and lets people receive Social Security for months that they are retired.  

For example, a person retiring in 2015, at least age 62 but younger than full retirement age the entire year, can receive retirement for months that gross wages do not exceed $1,310 even though calendar year earnings will be above retirement test amounts. Similar rules apply for self-employment.   

Consider the retirement earnings test before beginning Social Security. If your plans include working part-time, will those earnings reduce benefits for the year? Can you limit your earnings to stay below earnings test levels? Is retiring with part-time work your best option or should you continue working full time, without SSA benefits, for the immediate future? Keep in mind that Social Security retirement is permanently reduced if started when younger than FRA. 

Learn about the earnings test, including the special, one-time, monthly test, at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/whileworking.htm. Examples of how the earnings test is applied are there. 

Reminder: Do you receive Social Security now? Do you expect to earn over your applicable earnings test amount in 2015? If so, provide your estimated earnings amount to SSA early in the year so that benefits can be adjusted in advance to avoid incorrect payment. You can change estimates as needed.

The earnings test does not apply to people receiving SSA benefits due to their own disability. If receiving due to disability, contact Social Security before working.

 

Compare your retirement plans with the online estimator

Q: The online Social Security Statement retirement estimates cannot be changed to consider different plans. Can I estimate my retirement amount using different earnings or ages? 

A: Yes. Estimate the effect of lower or higher future earnings, or retirement at different retirement ages, with the Retirement Estimator at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator/.  

One of the Social Security retirement planning tools in the Retirement Planner section at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/, the Estimator connects to your actual Social Security earnings record to provide personal retirement estimates at age 62, at your full retirement age (FRA), and at age 70. 

Just as on your Statement estimate, the initial Retirement Estimator reply assumes your most recent wages or self-employment earnings will continue into the future. Unlike the Statement, with the Estimator you can change the default reply to obtain estimates at different ages or with different future earnings amounts. 

Comparing multiple estimates for any given age based on the initial earnings level and then with lower or higher earnings provides an approximate result of different earnings on your future SSA retirement amount. With separate requests, you can estimate benefits based on either lower or higher earnings. Future earnings of more than one amount cannot be used in one estimate.

Your actual Social Security retirement monthly amount is based on your best 35 years of employment and your age, in months, compared to your full retirement age. The Retirement Estimator provides estimates at different ages. 

For estimates in specific months, other online tools are available in the Retirement Planner section, www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/. If your interest is only for months before your full retirement age (FRA), use the chart for your FRA. To consider months either before or after your FRA, go here.

You can use the Retirement Estimator if you are enrolled in Medicare, but not if you have applied for or receive SSA benefits. The Estimator reply does not show your personal information or earnings record. 

To view your Social Security Statement create a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/. Your Statement will also show your earnings record and family benefit estimates not available elsewhere.

 

 

Should Mom give me the money?

Q: I am 15 and receive Social Security, which goes to my Mom. Should she should give me the money? 

A: When a person younger than age 18 receives Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the payment is almost always sent to an adult on their behalf rather than directly to the child. This adult is called the representative payee and it is his or her responsibility to direct the management of the funds. 

Representative payees are also appointed for adults who are incapable of managing their benefits. Payees are often family members but can be different people or even an organization. 

In the booklet A Guide for Representative Payees, a new payee is instructed in how funds should be used and how funds not immediately needed should be held for the future. Payees are told about required reports to Social Security about the funds. Representative payee instructions go into detail about how funds are to be used.  

Should your Mom give you the money? Not directly but the funds must be used for you. Just handing the benefit money to you could mean that she was not exercising proper control of the funds in your best interest. 

A key representative payee responsibility is to know beneficiary needs so that the Social Security or SSI funds can be best used for the person’s care and well-being, in particular making sure that day-to-day food and shelter needs are met. Having basic needs of food, shelter and clothing met indicate benefits are used for you even if you do not directly handle the money.  

Social Security benefits for children might continue or end at age 18. If they continue past age 18, the child often starts to receive them directly, without having a representative payee. Consider asking your Mom to share or create a budget with you. This would show you how the funds are used while giving you practice in handling money.

Importance of Social Security

Social Security benefits were never intended to provide your full retirement income. Under current law, if you have average earnings, your Social Security retirement benefits will replace about 40 percent of your pre-retirement earnings. The percentage is lower for people in the upper income brackets and higher for people with low incomes.

Despite this, 65 percent of SSA beneficiaries over age 65 received at least half of their income from Social Security in 2012.

To be more specific, in 2012, 87 percent of married couples and 86 percent of nonmarried persons aged 65 or older received Social Security benefits. Social Security was the major source of income (providing at least 50 percent of total income) for 52 percent of aged beneficiary couples and 74 percent of aged nonmarried beneficiaries.  

Social Security was 90 percent or more of income for 22 percent of aged beneficiary couples and 47 percent of aged nonmarried beneficiaries.

For the above chart, “An aged unit is a married couple living together or a nonmarried person, which also includes persons who are separated or married but not living together.”

Total income excludes withdrawals from savings and nonannuitized IRAs or 401(k) plans; it also excludes in-kind support, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits and housing and energy assistance.

Source for this information is the publication Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2014. The chart shown is from the section “Income of the Aged Population.”

Lots of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income information is in this publication. I think it is interesting. Perhaps you will too.

 

 

 

 

Average Social Security and SSI amounts in Sept. 2014

For September 2014, last month, following are three easily understood tables providing Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) information. These tables are online here

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a separate, low income program for the aged over 65, disabled or blind children, and disabled or blind adults that is administered by the Social Security Administration. Since SSI is completely different from Social Security, a person meeting the individual rules for each could become eligible for both programs. Income from Social Security reduces SSI amounts.

Learn more about Social Security and SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov. 

Table 1 shows the number of people, in thousands, receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) divided by Social Security only, SSI only, and people receiving both. 

Table 2 shows Social Security benefit information for September 2014, separated by number of beneficiaries receiving specific types of benefits and the average dollar amount of those benefits. The number of beneficiaries is again shown in the thousands, with total benefits shown in the millions and average amounts in dollars.

The “notes” in table 1 explain differences in total Social Security beneficiaries shown between table 1 and table 2.

Social Security was never intended to provide full retirement income and this table emphasizes that fact. In September 2014, the average SSA retirement benefit, for the retiree only and excluding any family benefits, was $1,302.56.

Table 3 shows Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit information for September 2014, separated by number of recipients receiving specific types of benefits and the average dollar amount of those benefits. As above, the number of recipients are shown in the thousands, total benefits shown in the millions and average amounts in dollars.

In September 2014, the average SSI amount was $535.21.

These tables are online here in case you cannot read them clearly.

Social Security Announces 1.7 Percent Benefit Increase for 2015

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 64 million Americans will increase 1.7 percent in 2015, the Social Security Administration announced today. 

The 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 58 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2015. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2014. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $118,500 from $117,000. Of the estimated 168 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2015, about 10 million will pay higher taxes because of the increase in the taxable maximum.  

Information about Medicare changes for 2015 is available at www.medicare.gov 

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola 

A fact sheet showing the effect of COLA related automatic changes for 2015 is here.

Using your SSA Statement

In previous posts, I have encouraged readers to create a personal my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/. Whether or not you now receive Social Security monthly benefits, online services are there for use. To create a my Social Security account, you must be at least 18 years old, have an email address and a United States mailing address. There are no fees to do this. As of September 30, nearly 14.5 million people had opened their free my Social Security account. 

If not yet receiving ongoing benefits, the major tool available is your Social Security Statement.

Many people think only of retirement when Social Security is discussed, but, in fact, the program includes disability and survivors benefits too. Including family member benefits, retirement represents about 70 percent of national Social Security benefits, survivors about 11 percent, and disability about 19 percent.Nationally, about 18.3 percent of the entire United States population, including adults and children of all ages, receive monthly Social Security benefits. 

Of course, retirement is the desired Social Security benefit, but studies show that just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67 and people die at all ages.   

For all of these possibilities, your Social Security Statement is a great family financial planning tool. After creating your my Social Security account, look at your Statement (sample here), especially your earnings record and estimated benefits sections, at least annually. 

Directly from your actual Social Security work record as reported by employers, your earnings record for many years is shown. This is the only place where you can see your personal earnings history. Future Social Security benefits on your record are based on your lifetime earnings. Review your record for accuracy. If there is an error, follow the correction instructions. 

Now look at the estimated benefits section. The Social Security website retirement planning section, contains tools to estimate retirement amounts but disability and survivors estimates, potentially to your children and other family members, are only on your Statement. Useful at all ages and especially for young families with dependent children, these current estimates can be a foundation for your other family financial planning. 

Creating your personal my Social Security account lets you access your Statement whenever desired. Starting for December birthdays, this past September the Social Security Administration resumed periodic mailings of paper Statements. Workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday. After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year. The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year.

 

 

 

Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage) Open Season & Extra Help

The Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) plan open enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7.   

Review your existing Part D plan each year. A plan that previously fit your needs might not be your best choice now. You need a list of your medicines, including dosages and frequency, to compare plans.  Spouses can choose different plans.  

Social Security representatives cannot help you choose a Part D plan.  

Learn about Part D at the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov. To find a Part D plan, go to the “Find health & drug plans” section. 

Everyone currently enrolled in Medicare can purchase a Part D prescription drug plan. Unlike Medicare Part A (Hospital) or Part B (Medical), Part D plans are purchased through private insurers. You shop for the plan that best suits your needs. Joining a Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary and participants pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage.  

Although Social Security representatives cannot help you choose a Part D plan, the agency does administer the Extra Help portion of Part D for people with limited income and resources. 

Extra Help is an income and resource based subsidy to help pay for part of monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.  

People with Medicare and receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are automatically eligible for Extra Help and should not apply.   

Applying for the Part D Extra Help program does not enroll you in a prescription drug plan. 

Part D details and an application are at www.ssa.gov/medicare/prescriptionhelp/, or call the SSA national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or your local office.

Medicare Part B premiums for 2015

Medicare Part B premiums will remain the same in 2015 as for 2014.  

As announced on October 9th by the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), the agency that administers Medicare, the standard 2015 Medicare Part B (Medical) premium remains unchanged from the 2014 amount of $104.90 per month. Part B covers physicians’ services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment, and other items.  

Not everyone pays the standard Medicare Part B (Medical) premium amount. Based on the amount of their Federal tax return modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), some people pay a higher Part B premium. 

Medicare Part B premium information for 2015 is on the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov. 

The detailed DHHS press release about 2015 Medicare Part B premiums is here.