Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]
This is the tale of how I enrolled in Medicare while lying to the government. They made me do it. Really. Here's the story:
One of the nicer byproducts of our becoming an internet society is that when you reach three months before your 65th birthday, you can fill out an online form to sign up for Medicare. No making an appointment at the Social Security office, no finding postage stamps. Just sit down at the computer and fill out a simple form.
The Social Security Administration even knows how to welcome my age group. The page leads with the headline. Boldly Go Online To Apply For Medicare and includes a video starring Patty Duke and George Takei in Star Trek uniforms.
So I tackled the form. And the process really is easy. Just five screens to fill out asking simple stuff like Name, Date of Birth, SS number, citizenship, enrolling in Medicare Part B only? (yes, I'm still working), etc.
Until I got to Group Health Plan Information. That's where it gets tricky.
Fortunately, I'd done my homework and knew the right answer. The right answer - the only answer I'm allowed to make - is "No."
Considering that I've been enrolled on my domestic partner's excellent group health plan for years, this is counterintuitive. I mean, who do they think has been paying for the dermatologist who removes my benign skin cancers and for my occasional pneumonia meds?
You see, under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Social Security Administration is not allowed to recognize that I belong to a group health plan because they are not allowed to recognize that I am in a spousal relationship. And that matters: if I entered what a married heterosexual would in answer to this question, I'd end up paying extra for Medicare for the rest of my life.
Here's how Gay and Lesbian Legal Defenders, a New England rights advocacy organization, explains the sort of situation in which I find myself:
”When you turn 65 you must enroll in Medicare Part B or face a 10% lifetime penalty for every year you fail to enroll. So if you wait until age 70, you will be paying an additional 50% premium in addition to the regular Part B premium for the rest of your life. However, Medicare does allow two exceptions to this rule.
“First, if you are still working and are covered by either your employer’s or union’s group health plan, you can opt to enroll in Medicare Part B anytime while you are still working or during the 8 months after either your employer’s insurance or your employment ends WITHOUT incurring any penalty.
“There is a second exception that involves being on a spouse’s health plan, but because of the discrimination that same-sex married couples face because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), this benefit will not apply to same-sex married couples until either GLAD wins one of its lawsuits against DOMA (more information on GLAD’s cases here) or Congress repeals DOMA.”
So the only right answer to the "Covered under a Group Health Plan?" question on the Social Security form is "No."
I found this upsetting - so upsetting that I got on the phone and worked my way through a series of automated choices until I managed to reach a person. She actually was nice enough, willing to be helpful.
After explaining my situation and existing coverage, I asked: "Am I really supposed to lie on your form?" She said I must enter "No," even though the true answer is "Yes."
So I did just that. This made me nervous - we've all heard horror stories about insurance companies denying claims because of minor discrepancies on applications. Could I get in trouble for entering something that was manifestly untrue?
Besides, I believe in Medicare. I'm ready to lobby and struggle to keep it for all of us. I don't want to start my relationship with this vital program by telling an untruth. So I didn't completely restrain myself.
The last screen of Social Security's online form has a section for "remarks." Here's what I wrote:
”I have entered incorrect information under the previous screen because I HAVE BEEN covered under my partner's group health plan, but because my coverage is as a domestic partner, not a "married" spouse, the SS Administration apparently cannot recognize my existing coverage.
“This required me to enter information that is factually incorrect - after all, my partner's group health plan has been paying my health bills…But I was so instructed by your agent.”
Apparently this didn't have any effect on my paperwork. Does anyone even read “remarks" I wonder? Yesterday, a letter announcing that I am eligible turned up in the mail.
Look out Mitt! Look out Barack! You've got another elder chafing to hold your feet to the fire to preserve our Medicare.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Ordinary Day