Q: My wife and I are both on Social Security and Medicare. Her Medicare card has my Social Security number with a “B” after it. When I die, I know she will get widow’s benefits. But will she continue to get Medicare on my record?
A: Yes, she will continue to get Medicare on your record. The only thing that will change is that she will get a new Medicare card, still with your Social Security number, but this time with a letter “D” behind it.
The Medicare people simply use the Social Security claim number as your Medicare number. Currently, your wife is claiming benefits on your account. “B” is the symbol the Social Security Administration uses to denote wife’s benefits. When you die, your wife will be claiming widow’s benefits on your record. And “D” is the symbol SSA uses for widow’s benefits.
Q: Can you explain the little letter symbols the Medicare people use on our Medicare cards?
A: I put your question here on purpose because it nicely dovetails into what I wrote in the last answer.
As I said, your Medicare number simply mirrors your Social Security claim number. And the little letter symbols behind the SSN signify various kinds of Social Security benefits. SSA calls them BICs. That stands for beneficiary identification codes. They run from A to W. And many of them have subsets, like B2 and C3, etc. So I simply don’t have the space to get into all of them. I will just give the most common ones.
–A: retirement benefits.
–B: wife’s benefits.
–B6: divorced wife’s benefits.
–C: child’s benefits.
–D: widow’s benefits.
–D6: divorced widow’s benefits.
–E: mother’s benefits (widows under age 60 with minor children).
Q: I am 67 and getting widow’s benefits from Social Security. My own retirement benefit was small — only $455 per month. My widow’s rate is $2,175. In a prior column, you told a woman in a situation similar to my own that she was actually getting benefits from both her own and her husband’s Social Security account. I’d like to know if that’s true in my case, too. Can you prove it to me?
A: The easiest way of proving it would be to check your Medicare card. I will bet my next pension check that it shows your number with a letter “A” behind it. (This woman got back to me and, sure enough, her Medicare card has her number with an “A.”) As mentioned above, the Medicare number reflects your Social Security claim number. So that means you are claiming retirement benefits on your own Social Security record. That’s your primary Social Security account. Then they are supplementing your retirement with the extra widow’s benefits you are due.
Or to put that another way, you are getting $455 in retirement benefits and $1,720 in widow’s benefits to take your total monthly income from Social Security up to your $2,175 full widow’s rate.
Q: I just turned 70 and I am so confused about my Medicare card. It started out with my own Social Security number followed by the letter “T.” Then for several years, I had a card with my husband’s number followed by a “B.” And just recently, I got a new Medicare card — and it’s back to my Social Security number, but this time with an “A” behind it. It’s confusing enough for me. I can’t imagine how it is messing up the Medicare billing clerks! What’s going on?
A: What’s going on is that your Social Security claims situation has changed over the years. When you were 65, you signed up for Medicare only. Because you weren’t claiming any benefits, there was no claim number to add to your Medicare card. So they simply used your own Social Security number with the letter “T” behind it. The “T” originally stood for something else in the SSA BIC code dictionary. But it became useful in these situations. So think of it as meaning “temporary.”
When you turned 66, you must have employed the “file and restrict” maximizing strategy, claiming wife’s benefits on your husband’s record with plans to save your own retirement benefits until age 70. So between age 66 and 70, you were claiming wife’s benefits on your husband’s Social Security account. That’s why your Medicare card during those years had his number with a “B” behind it — the code for wife’s benefits.
When you reached age 70, you switched to your own retirement benefits, getting the 132 percent rate payable to folks who delay filing for retirement until 70. So now, your Medicare number switches back to your own Social Security number, but this time with an “A” behind it denoting the fact that you are getting retirement benefits.
By the way, the decision to use the Social Security claim number as the Medicare number dates back to the 1960s when the federal health insurance program began. At that time, nobody was playing games with their Social Security benefits, switching back and forth from one account to another. So it made perfect sense to just adopt the Social Security claim number as the Medicare number.
For a while now, there has been some talk of setting up a completely separate numbering system for Medicare cards. But I don’t think those plans will go anywhere for two reasons. One: Who wants to add another government ID number to the list of things they have to remember? And two: These maximizing strategies are going away in a couple years, so people will no longer be switching back and forth from one Social Security account to another. And that means Medicare numbers won’t be changing either.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected]
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