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The BENES Act became the law of the land in 2020.

But it doesn’t take effect until 2023, according to Jae Oh, the author of Maximize Your Medicare.

According to the Senate Aging Committee, the BENES Act:

· eliminates needless multi-month coverage gaps in Medicare by mandating that Part B insurance begin the first of the month following one’s enrollment during both the later months of their Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) and during the General Enrollment Period (GEP).

· reduces confusion by aligning the annual GEP with the annual enrollment period for private Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D prescription drug plans.

· allows the federal government to create a Part B Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for “exceptional circumstances,” a provision currently used in MA and Part D when people are not able to sign up for Medicare due to occurrences like hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“I think the BENES Act was very well-meaning,” said Oh. “It was trying to reduce certain elements of confusion in Medicare enrollment and it had done so by proposing a number of different changes, which do create uncomfortable situations for persons who do not correctly enroll in Medicare.”

The first of those is what happens today during the first quarter of every year. Today, if you delayed enrolling in Medicare Part B you can enroll during the GEP. Unfortunately, your coverage doesn’t begin until July. And that delay “leaves people in the very uncomfortable situation, especially in the age of COVID-19,” said Oh.

In essence, would-be beneficiaries must make other types of arrangements to fill in the gap, said Oh.

And until the BENES Act goes into effect, the confusion regarding the multi-month coverage gap will continue this year and next.

The proposed version of the BENES Act also directed the federal government to provide advance notice to individuals approaching Medicare eligibility about basic Medicare enrollment rules. But that provision was “unfortunately and inexplicably” omitted in the version signed into law, said Oh.

And the reason why it’s unfortunate is that some older Americans who delay taking Social Security sometimes forget that they have to sign up for Medicare at age 65. Some incorrectly think they can sign up for Medicare when they sign up for Social Security. But that’s not the case, said Oh.

Given that provision was omitted, Oh said would-be Medicare beneficiaries need to take matters into their own hands and start learning about the process of enrolling in Medicare no later than age 63, due to the fact that IRMAA uses income tax returns two years prior to the year that Medicare Part B (or Part D) coverage begins. 

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