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home | Medicare | Medicare For Non-Citizens

Medicare For Non-Citizens

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Are you paying out of pocket for health care costs related to a relative who has come from another country to be near you in the United States? Thousands of caregivers are, and they may not need to.

Many people who have lived in other countries their whole lives find themselves alone as they grow older because their children have moved to the United States. These children have become legal residents or citizens of the US. They have made lives for themselves here and can't move back home to care for their aging relatives. So many of them bring their aging parents to the United States.

When they leave their home countries, many of these seniors also leave behind their health coverage. Although most countries offer some degree of national health coverage to their citizens, these benefits don't accompany a senior who moves to another country. When an older person becomes a "resident alien" in the USA, he or she loses health coverage. This could result in thousands and thousands of dollars in uninsured medical expenses should the senior family member have a real health emergency.

While there is no perfect answer to this problem, there really is some help available from Medicare.

Permanent resident aliens may qualify for Medicare coverage if they have lived in the United States continuously for at least five years and if they meet the age requirement (usually age 65). Most of our older parents who move to the US to be closer to family did not work or pay FICA taxes here, and so are not entitled to Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits. If this is the case for your older family member, then he or she will usually be required to pay the Medicare Part A premium ($410 per month in 2007).

Permanent resident aliens who have lived in the US for at least five continuous years can apply for Part A Medicare either when they reach the age and residency requirements or during an open enrollment time: January 1 through March 31 of each year. Benefits then begin July 1st after the first premium is paid.

Unless they tell Social Security they don't want Part B, Social Security will enroll individuals in Part B at the same time as Part A. The 2007 premium for Part B is $93.50 per month. Individuals do not have to enroll in Part A and pay the Part A premium to enroll in Part B Medicare. A word to the wise - one hospitalization can have ruinous financial consequences. Not enrolling in Part A Medicare may be penny wise and pound foolish, so think twice before doing this.

(If you're hopelessly confused by now, there's more information about all the "Parts" of Medicare in Medicare and You 2008)

It may sound expensive to pay for Medicare, but it's a whole lot less expensive than trying to purchase private insurance for a non-citizen parent. By the time they come to the States many seniors have health issues and won't qualify for private insurance at any cost. There are no pre-existing medical restrictions with Medicare, so even seniors with serious health problems will qualify for permanent resident alien coverage as soon as they reach the five year mark.

This can all be very confusing. If you have an older relative who is a permanent resident alien and who has been here for five years, or who is getting close to the five year mark, call Social Security and talk to a representative about getting him or her enrolled in Medicare. The phone number is 1 (800) 772-1213.