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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Certain military retirees living overseas have until March 31 to enroll for Medicare Part B, a requirement to receive Tricare For Life coverage.

The deadline is for people older than 65 who continued working or opted out of the coverage when they turned 65. Medical coverage begins July 1 for those who sign up in time.

Most people initially do not need to sign up for the coverage because the government enrolls people when they begin receiving Social Security benefits — unless they turn down the coverage, according to the Social Security Web site. Later, retirees may sign up only during enrollment periods.

Retirees who are unsure about their Part B enrollment may apply online for the benefit at www.ssa.gov/applyforbenefits or by calling (001) 800-772-1213 to apply.

Military retirees should sign up for the Part B coverage because without the coverage they cannot receive Tricare For Life coverage, said Uli Engel, the Tricare Europe deputy chief of regional operations.

Although Medicare does not pay for medical services overseas, retirees still have to sign up to receive the military’s medical plan for over-65 retirees, Engel added.

Congress established Tricare For Life in the National Defense Act of 2001.

The act made enrollment in Medicare Part B mandatory so the in-place medical program for people older than 65 would pay first. After Medicare pays whatever it will, then Tricare For Life picks up the remaining allowable medical costs.

Overseas, Tricare For Life foots the whole bill.

Having the Part B coverage also makes sense in case retirees travel to or return to live in the States, Engel said. If overseas retirees are in the States, the program automatically works the way it was intended, Engel said.

Paying for a Medicare service the retirees do not receive can be compared to many services U.S. citizens overseas pay for but cannot use, said Troy Kitch, the Tricare Europe spokesman. “Even people who come overseas have to pay taxes,” Kitch said. “This is an indication you are a U.S. citizen.”

The military medical care program is still a benefit for retirees overseas, Engel said.

“Before this was established, when they reached 65, they were on their own,” she said.

Under the old rules, retirees could receive medical care in military treatment facilities on a space-available basis for those medical services available overseas, Engel added.

Retirees do not need to do anything more to sign up for Tricare For Life than be enrolled in the Part B coverage, Kitch said. The military’s Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System automatically updates retirees’ Part B status. The system will then pay or deny claims based on a person’s status as reflected in the system, he said.

The costs ...

Medicare:The Medicare Part B medical insurance plan costs $58.70 a month. The insurance covers doctors’ services, hospital outpatient care and other services outside hospitals when in the United States.

Tricare For Life:Retirees enrolled in Tricare For Life pay a yearly deductible of $150 per person or $300 per family. The deductible applies toward the first $150 per person or $300 per family spent on allowable medical expenses. After that, retirees pay 25 percent of the allowable medical expenses up to a $3,000 spending cap on payments.

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