The following is a question submitted by a reader to Federal Times columnist Reg Jones, a charter member of the senior executive service and the resident expert on federal employee retirement issues.

A Fed Times reader asks:

“I’m retired from the federal government and have group health insurance from [Federal Employee Health Benefits program] for myself and my husband, who is also retired. I’m under age 65 and not eligible for Medicare part B yet. However, my husband is turning 65 this year. Since he is covered under my [Blue Cross Blue Shield] health plan, can he delay enrolling in Medicare part B without a penalty if he does not sign up during the special enrollment period?

I talked with someone from Medicare and they indicated he would not be subject to the 10 percent penalty since he is already covered under my health plan, and that he would need to sign up later during the general enrollment period. However, other things that I’m reading online suggest that he will have to pay the late enrollment penalty since I’m not currently actively working. It is so confusing.

I’ve tried calling BCBS, but they were unable to completely answer my questions. I’ve also attempted to contact [the Office of Personnel Management’s] Retirement Services, but every time I call there is a recorded message to call back later due to increased call volume.”

Reg’s response:

The special enrollment period is only available to someone based on their current or active employment or the current or active employment of their spouse.

Since you are a retiree, to avoid a penalty, your spouse will have to enroll during the initial Medicare enrollment period, which begins three months before he turns 65 and ends three months after that month.

Got a question for the Federal Times expert? Send inquiries to:

Reg Jones, a charter member of the senior executive service, is our resident expert on retirement and the federal government. From 1979 to '95, he served as an assistant director of the Office of Personnel Management handling recruiting and examining, white and blue collar pay, retirement, insurance and other issues. Opinions expressed are his own.

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