National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) works to help Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) seniors answer questions from a wide variety of topics, but one of the biggest topics of interest to seniors in is health care. NAPCA has expertise in handling issues like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security/Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and is happy to field any and all questions.

The column provides information to AAPI elders and their information intermediaries about Social Security, health-care access and aging services by answering questions submitted to NAPCA by AAPI elders. The column also appears on a biweekly basis in the World Journal, the largest Chinese language newspaper in the U.S. with a circulation of over 100,000, as well as in the Seattle Chinese Times newspaper.

QUESTION:

I am 66 years old, born in September, 1946.  I am not a U.S. citizen but I have lived in the U.S. for 10 years. I have accumulated 40 working credits, and I am still working, earning about $23,000 a year.  Since my health is good, I plan to work until 70 to apply for retirement. Both my wife and I are being covered by my employer’s group health insurance program. I have the following questions:
If I retired now, I would get about $396 a month. Will this amount be reduced because I have income due to working?  Also, since I continue working, will my retirement money be increased? How much will my retirement money be if I retire at 70?

Currently I am not on Medicare Part A, B, C and D. When should I apply for these, and do I need to pay a penalty?

I sold a house to our son and made a $9,000 profit. I have life insurance, 401K and  savings in the bank.

Will these affect my eligibility for SSI?

My wife is 58 years old. She is [also] not a U.S. citizen, but has lived in [the] U.S. for 10 years.

So far, she has only earned 17 working credits. What benefits can she apply for, and is she eligible for food stamps?

– Reader from Portland, Ore.

ANSWER: We thank you for your letter and would answer your questions as below.

Since you were born in 1946, your Full Retirement Age (FRA) is 66. If you apply to receive your Social Security Retirement Benefits at your FRA, your income will not affect the amount of your retirement money. Only when you apply for early retirement and your annual earned income exceeds the required limit, your Social  Security (SS) retirement benefits may be reduced. If you are still working and continue paying SS tax, your retirement benefits amount may be increased.  Normally, near the end of the year, Social Security Administration (SSA) will send you a notice advising how much the increase will be due to your working in the previous year. Also, the retirement payment amount may be adjusted every year according to the living index. As to whether you should apply for retirement now, it purely depends on your own need.

If you delay receiving your SS retirement benefits until 70, normally your benefit will increase automatically by a certain percentage from the time you reach your FRA until you start receiving your benefit or until you reach age 70. The percentage varies depending on your year of birth.  As an example, if you were born in 1943 or later, SSA will add 8 percent per year to your benefits beyond your FRA.  However, if you decide to delay applying for your SS Retirement Benefit, you should notify SSA at your FRA, and SSA will advise you with more details about your own case. You can call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment. If required, you can request an interpreter. This service is free.

As long as you are working and are covered by your employer’s group health insurance, you can delay joining Medicare until the “Special Enrollment Period” without paying a penalty. The “Special Enrollment Period” runs for eight months after you have left your employment or lost your insurance, whichever comes first. However, in this case, you should notify SSA for record purposes.  Also, if you have 40 working credits, you may join Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) first because it is premium-free for you and just delay joining Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance).

As for Part C, the basic requirement is that you should have both Medicare Part A and B.  You can enroll in Medicare Part C during your Special Enrollment Period if your Medicare Part A and Part do not meet your needs. As for Part D (prescription drug insurance), the basic requirement is that you should have either Medicare Part A or B or both. But  if your current insurance covers prescription drugs as well, and equal to the cost or even better than Medicare Part D (the term is creditable) then you can join Part D within two months after you have lost your insurance in order to avoid the penalty. NAPCA has established a free national Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese) Helpline at 1-800-582-4218 to assist eligible seniors to apply for Medicare Part D and Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS, also known as Extra Help). If you have any questions on Part D, please feel free to call the above Helpline and one of our staff will be happy to assist.

For your life insurance, the whole amount you got from selling your house to your son (not just the $9,000 profit amount), the savings in the bank and your 401K account are all considered to be part of your assets, thus affecting your eligibility for SSI. When your wife reaches 65, she can apply for Medicare and may, based on your Social Security record, enjoy premium-free Medicare Part A. Although she does not have 40 working credits, if you have received your SS retirement benefits or applied for delayed retirement at your FRA, she may be eligible for spouse’s retirement benefits at her FRA and receive half of your retirement benefits. If she qualifies, she may also apply as early as 62, but receive less than half the benefits. When she applies, SSA will tell her the exact amount she is entitled to.  We would point out that her spouse’s retirement benefit is additional and not deducted from your retirement. Since your wife was born in 1954, her FRA is also 66.

To apply for food stamps, there are income and asset limits (your income and
assets should be calculated together).

For details, please contact local State Medical Assistance Office at 1-800-527-5772 or (503) 945-5772.

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