- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I’m retired Air Force, collecting a company retirement and Social Security. So I’m in better shape than many others in my age group.

I heard on one of the money talk shows about a means testing for Medicare Part B starting next year.

As I understand it, I have to take Part B in order to get Tricare for Life. If I opt out of Part B for another medical plan, I presume I will lose Tricare for Life. Is this correct?

Thank you for your column. It is a great help.

Paul H.

Master Sergeant USAF Retired

Hesperia, Calif.

Dear Paul:

A retiree or family member must enroll in Medicare Part B when first offered (age 65, or earlier if awarded Social Security disability) or they lose eligibility for Tricare or Tricare for Life. They can regain TFL eligibility once they enroll in Part B, but may have to pay late-enrollment penalties to Medicare when they do.

An exception is if they are still employed (or spouse is employed) and covered by an employer-sponsored health plan — they are then exempt from Part B enrollment until employment ends, or health coverage ends. Enrollment in Part B during this special enrollment period occurs without penalty. Retirees remain ineligible for TFL during this time. They can re-establish TFL eligibility once they enroll in Medicare Part B.

There is means testing for Medicare Part B beginning in fiscal 2007. Those earning more than $80,000 per year or $160,000 per year as a couple will pay 25 percent of the cost of their care. Most people pay 20 percent. The new Medicare Part B fee will be $93.50 for most people. For example, the estimated payments for individuals with an income of less than $80,000 or couples earning less than $160,000 is $88 in 2006, $94 in 2007 and $113 in 2008.

Shaft notes

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson and leaders of major veterans organizations recently called on America’s veterans to help kindle a new spark of patriotism on Veterans Day by wearing the medals they earned during military service.

“We are announcing a Veterans Pride Initiative to remind Americans of the pride and honor in the hearts of those who have served,” Mr. Nicholson said. “We expect Americans will see our decorated heroes unite in spirit at ceremonies, in parades and elsewhere as a compelling symbol of courage and sacrifice on Veterans Day, the day we set aside to thank those who served and safeguarded our national security.”

Mr. Nicholson said he hopes a U.S. tradition will ensue to emulate this pride in being a veteran and in honoring our veterans.

• The Sarge would like to pass along some information on a new effort spearheaded by former VA Administrator and Veterans Coalition President Harry N. Walters. He recently announced the names of nine nationally recognized authorities on veterans issues to serve on the new Commission on the Future for America’s Veterans. The commission is charged with developing a vision on “how best to provide future generations of America’s veterans with the benefits and services they have earned,” Mr. Walters said.

The nine commissioners are:

Everett Alvarez Jr., who was deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration from 1982 to 1986. He was the first American aviator shot down over North Vietnam, where he was held as a prisoner of war for eight years.

Raymond G. Boland, a Vietnam War veteran and former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Chad Colley, a Vietnam War veteran who lost his legs and an arm in combat.

Ronald F. Conley, director of Veterans Affairs for Allegheny County, Pa., and former American Legion National Commander.

William M. Diefenderfer III, a Vietnam War veteran who served in senior positions in the House and Senate, and was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Kenneth W. Kizer, former undersecretary of health in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Susan M. Livingstone, former Navy undersecretary and former chief executive officer of the Association of the United States Army.

Bryan E. Sharratt, alumni committee president for the Reserve Forces Policy Board.

Jo Ann Webb, former assistant secretary for policy and planning and director of the National Cemetery System in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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