Bilirakis Backs Proposals to End Medicare Gaps

By KEVIN DERBY Sunshine State News

Gus Bilirakis

Gus Bilirakis

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., is championing a second proposal to end gaps in Medicare coverage and cut down on late-enrollment penalties.

Early last week, citing numbers that show  almost 760,000 Americans are paying fines for late-enrollment in Medicare which increases Part B premiums — on average, by 28 percent — U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., showcased his support for the “Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act.” Other supporters of the bill include U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. who introduced it, U.S. Rep. Brad Scheider, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep.  Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.

Towards the end of the week, Bilirakis backed a second proposal on the issue, championing the “Medicare Enrollment Protection Act” with U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Oreg., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., as cosponsors. Schrader is the main sponsor of the bill. 

“This important legislation will protect seniors from coverage gaps in Medicare by closing the Medicare Part B-COBRA loophole,” Bilirakis’ office noted. “Under current law, anyone 65 and older who does not enroll in Medicare Part B within eight months of retiring or being laid off from his or her job is penalized with a higher lifetime premium and a delayed start to Medicare coverage. This includes those who opt into COBRA coverage upon retirement which essentially extends the coverage they received under their employer for up to an additional 18 months.”

Bilirakis weighed in on Schrader’s bill on Friday. 

“We want to ensure the transition from private health care to Medicare is easy,” said Bilirakis. “The current law does not meet that objective.  Additionally, the law does not properly reflect the need for flexibility due to the various challenges that those exiting the workforce face in today’s economy.  Our bill empowers seniors to make the health care decisions that best fit their individual needs without fear of a lifetime penalty, and I look forward to its quick passage.” 

“This bill was first introduced two years after the recession hit, causing mass layoffs and forcing thousands to retire early,” the congressman’s office noted. “Many of those 65 and older, who were forced to retire early, opted to enroll in COBRA to ensure that they remained in their current provider’s network. Once their COBRA coverage expired, they were forced to wait until the next Medicare enrollment period, delaying coverage for as long as a year and triggering higher premiums for life. The Medicare Enrollment Protection Act of 2019 will establish a special enrollment period for seniors who miss their enrollment periods due to COBRA continuation coverage.”

The bill has at least three committee stops with appearances before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce, the Ways and Means and the Education and Labor Committees. So far, there is no version of the bill over in the U.S. Senate.