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3:13 pm
Mon March 12, 2012

Romney Says No Thanks To Medicare

So Mitt Romney is turning 65. And on his landmark birthday, he's doing the exact opposite of what roughly 99 percent of Americans do at that age: He's not signing up for Medicare.

The news was broken by the blog Buzzfeed, and quickly confirmed by the Romney campaign.

Romney is clearly making a political point. Wealthy people like him ought to pay more for their Medicare benefits (if they get them at all) and that perhaps 65 is a little young to qualify, too.

"Wealthier seniors will receive less support," under the changes Romney is proposing for Medicare, according to his website. At the same time, he is proposing to "gradually raise the retirement age to reflect increases in longevity."

But could his political point cost him more down the road if he changes his mind? Maybe. Medicare charges penalties for those who wait to sign up. It's the program's way of ensuring that people don't wait until they get sick to enroll.

Signing up for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital care, never used to be a problem, because it's free once you reach eligibility age.

But a recent court ruling, involving former House Majority Leader Dick Armey as one of the plaintiffs, found that Social Security benefits and Medicare Part A are a package deal. If you sign up for the Social Security, you have to take Part A as well.

And experts say Romney might, in fact, have to pay a "late enrollment" penalty for his failure to sign up for Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient care and doctor visits.

So far the campaign hasn't said what kind of health insurance Romney has. And it does make a difference.

If it is a group retiree plan offered by Romney's former firm, Bain Capital, there's no penalty as long as he continues with it. But if Romney is buying his own individual coverage (since he has to be covered thanks to the Massachusetts law he signed as governor), he'd have to pay a higher premium for every month he delays signing up for Medicare.

Meanwhile, Medicare's former chief, Don Berwick, turned 65 last year, while he was running the agency. He said at the time he was happy to join the program he headed.

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