How Does the Government Shutdown Affect Medicare?

Plus, find out about the partial shutdown's impact on health coverage for veterans and government employees.

Question: Does the government shutdown affect Medicare enrollment, claims or support?

Answer: No. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been funded through September 30, 2019, and its programs (Medicare and Medicaid) haven’t been affected by the partial government shutdown. Claims continue to be processed as usual.

Medicare enrollment, which is processed through the Social Security Administration, hasn’t been affected, either. The SSA has also been funded through fiscal year 2019 (which ends on September 30, 2019), and branch offices continue to be open on their regular schedule. If you’re turning 65 and signing up for Medicare, however, the most efficient way to enroll is online at www.ssa.gov/medicare (opens in new tab), even if you aren’t signing up for Social Security benefits yet. (If you delayed signing up for Medicare past the age of 65 because you were working and had employer coverage, you’ll need to fill out some extra forms and either mail them to the SSA or visit a Social Security office rather than signing up online.) These procedures haven’t changed because of the shutdown. See Signing Up for Medicare When You’re Still Covered by an Employer’s Health Plan for more information.

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You can continue to contact Medicare’s toll-free 800-Medicare number (800-633-4227) with any questions on the program, although the phone lines tend to be busy early in the year; some other resources might be easier to reach, regardless of the shutdown. You can get help from your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselors, who can answer questions about Medicare enrollment, rules and appeals. You can find contact information for your local SHIP at www.shiptacenter.org (opens in new tab). Another good resource is the Medicare Rights Center (opens in new tab), which runs a national helpline and includes answers to many questions at Medicare Interactive (opens in new tab). And you can find out about Part D and Medicare Advantage plans in your area through the Medicare Plan Finder (opens in new tab). See Switching to a New Medicare Advantage Plan Gets Easier for more about when you can switch plans after open enrollment. Medicare.gov (opens in new tab) also has a lot of great resources to help answer your questions about Medicare coverage and rules.

The Shutdown’s Impact on Health Coverage for Veterans, Government Employees

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been funded through fiscal year 2019 and is not affected by the shutdown. The Department of Health and Human Services, which also has been funded for fiscal year 2019, runs the ACA marketplaces, and subsidy payments will not be disrupted. If you move or leave your job and qualify for a special enrollment period to buy individual health insurance on the exchanges outside of open enrollment, you can still go to Healthcare.gov (opens in new tab) to purchase a policy or find links to your state exchange.

Federal employees continue to be covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits program during the shutdown, even if they have been furloughed. However, any changes to their coverage (say, for a life event such as getting married or having a baby) may be more complicated. If you're unable to make the changes through your payroll office, ask your plan about other options. You may be able to fill out Form 2809 (opens in new tab) and send it to your plan to make the change. (The Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employees Program, for example, has instructions for furloughed workers (opens in new tab) on its website.)

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.