In addition to the important benefits covered under this component of Medicare (primarily hospital, skilled nursing facility and some home health and hospice coverage), Part A entitlement triggers eligibility for the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) program. QMB helps certain low-income people with health care costs associated with Medicare, including all of Medicare Part A and Part B premiums and cost-sharing and nearly all of Part D premiums and cost-sharing. Without being enrolled in Part A first, however, beneficiaries cannot enroll in QMB.
What is QMB?
Under the QMB program, state Medicaid programs pay all Medicare premiums, deductibles and co-insurance for aged and disabled people with:
QMB benefits for 2013 include payment of:
Connection to Medicare Part A
Eligibility for the QMB program is dependent upon an individual's enrollment in Medicare Part A. Most Medicare beneficiaries receive Part A benefits without payment of a premium because of their employment history. People age 65 and over who are not entitled to premium-free Part A but who elect to purchase Part B coverage (or for whom Part B premiums are paid by the State Medicaid program) may also purchase Part A, but it is very expensive – $441/month for those with 29 or fewer quarters of Social Security coverage and $243/month for those with 30-39 quarters. Though both of these figures are lower than they were in 2012, the full payment is still nearly 50% of the monthly income of one who is financially eligible for the QMB program.
Part A Buy-In States vs. Group Payer States
States are authorized by the Social Security Act to enter into formal "Buy-In" agreements with CMS to pay Medicare premiums for low-income beneficiaries. One benefit of having such an agreement is that individuals can be enrolled in Part A (and subsequently in the QMB program) at any time during the year and penalties that are otherwise assessed for late enrollment are waived. Most states have such agreements; they are called Part A Buy-In States.
Attention advocates for residents of the following states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), your state only allows enrollment in Medicare Part A during the General Enrollment Period to become eligible for help with Medicare cost-sharing under the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) program.
Therefore, if potentially QMB-eligible beneficiaries living in these states do not currently have Medicare Part A, they must enroll in Part A (and in Part B, if they do not already have Part B) before March 31, 2013 to be entitled to QMB benefits in 2013. For those who cannot afford the Part A premium, a conditional application process, described below, is available to protect them from financial liability.
Individuals without Part A who are otherwise eligible for QMB benefits and reside in these states are, unfortunately, penalized by the fact that these states have no Buy-In agreement with CMS. These states are called Group Payer States. Individuals in group payer state face greater barriers to participation in the QMB program than individuals in Part A Buy-In States.
Again, Individuals in Group Payer States who did not enroll in Part A when they were first eligible to do so can only enroll in Part A during the General Enrollment period described above. This period will end on March 31st for 2013. Individuals who do not enroll in Part A by March 31, 2013 will have to wait until January 2014 to do so; their QMB eligibility will be postponed until July 1, 2014 at the absolute earliest.
Beneficiaries who believe they have been given erroneous information by SSA concerning Medicare Part A, such as not being told of the possibility of conditional enrollment, may be able to have their enrollment date moved back by seeking equitable relief from the agency. See section HI 00830.005 of the SSA Program Operations Manual System (POMS) for more detail.
The conditional enrollment process described above may also apply in Part A Buy-In States, but the process can be used at any time, not just during the General Enrollment period. It is only applicable if the individual must also enroll in Part B. See SSA Program Operations Manual System HI 00801.140. See also EM 08071
(https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/public/reference.nsf/links/08112008035226PM), which instructs District Offices how to process an enrollment outside the General Enrollment Period.
Procedure for Purchasing Part A
Typically, after their Initial Enrollment Period, individuals are entitled to enroll in Part A or Part B only during the Medicare General Enrollment Period that runs from January 1 through March 31 of each year. Eligibility for Part A and B coverage begins July 1 of the same year for those enrolling during the General Enrollment Period. Except in special circumstances, Medicare assesses a 10% penalty on the monthly premium for enrollment after the Initial Enrollment Period. The Part A enrollment penalty does not last indefinitely. For people enrolled in QMB, the state pays the penalty for late enrollment.
Conditional Part A Application Process for Potential QMB Participants
Usually, enrollment in QMB happens after a beneficiary already has Part A and B. A "conditional application" process has been created to address the dilemma of people who wish to enroll in Part A and to participate in QMB, but who cannot afford to pay the Part A premium while waiting for QMB to start to pay the Part A premium. Under conditional enrollment, the individual is considered to be enrolled in Part A for QMB purposes but if the state later finds s/he is not eligible for QMB, the Part A enrollment is dropped so that s/he is not personally liable for the premium. Persons in this situation should call both their local Social Security office and state Medicaid agency to learn specifics of how the process works in a given state. Information on Social Security's role in conditional enrollment is available through the SSA Program Operations Manual System (POMS) at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/partlist!OpenView. Click on HI and look for HI 00801.137 and HI 00801.140.
If unable to get a clear answer from Social Security, one might pursue conditional enrollment as follows:
Consequences of Failure to Enroll in Part A: Help with Part D
The possible consequences of not obtaining Medicare Part A coverage increased in 2006 with the advent of Medicare Part D. As noted earlier, QMB status entitles the beneficiary to automatic qualification for the Medicare Part D full Low-Income Subsidy to help pay for prescription drugs. This significant subsidy entitles the beneficiary to minimal co-payments, no premium or deductible and no coverage gap. In addition, under the Part D program, coverage is not available for drugs covered by Parts A or B, even if the particular beneficiary needing such drugs does not have Parts A or B. (Note that QMB is not the only path to the Part D Low-Income Subsidy; anyone can apply directly to the Social Security Administration for that assistance.)
The processes described in this Alert are not necessarily easy to use. Advocates from both Group Payer States and Part A Buy-In States report difficulties in finding state and SSA personnel who are familiar with conditional enrollment. Clients, too, may be skeptical of taking this action, especially if agency personnel cannot reassure them they will not be billed for the Part A premium. In addition, individuals without Part B must also enroll in Part B to enroll in Part A. There is no conditional enrollment for Part B, so the individual may be concerned about having to pay Part B premiums, even though the QMB benefit will cover those once it is in place. Regulations direct that Part B becomes effective when QMB becomes effective, so there should be no personal financial liability.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy is interested in the myriad challenges of QMB enrollment and would appreciate hearing from advocates about their experiences with SSA and their state Medicaid agencies relating to it.
Advocates wishing to create an information piece for beneficiaries might want to look at the example, created by Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, which we have posted at http://www.medicareadvocacy.org\News\WeeklyAlerts\AlertPDFs\2006\
06_12.28.TipSheet.pdf. Please note that this document has 2007 information and information specific to Missouri; it must be carefully updated and adapted to meet your needs. If your organization has created a similar flier, with more up to date information, we would be delighted to have a copy to post on our website.
 Amounts are higher for Alaska and Hawaii
 (The monthly income eligibility changes each year after the publication of annual income poverty guidelines, usually published in January or February.)
See the full testimony at http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/2013/02/26/center-