What you should know:
  1. You can qualify for ESRD Medicare coverage at any age if you or your spouse meet work requirements and your kidneys have stopped working, you require regular dialysis, or you’ve had a kidney transplant.
  2. If you qualify for Medicare based on ESRD, you’ll receive full Medicare coverage, including services beyond those related to kidney failure.
  3. If you qualify for ESRD Medicare, you can choose to receive your Medicare benefits through Original Medicare or through a Medicare Advantage Plan.
  4. ESRD Medicare works with other coverage, such as employer or union group health plans.

Medicare is often thought of as health care coverage for people aged 65 and older, but that’s not always the case. Younger people with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) can also qualify for Medicare, regardless of age. ESRD occurs when kidneys stop functioning permanently and require regular, long-term dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant.

You must meet certain requirements to qualify for Medicare based on ESRD, and coverage doesn’t begin right away. You may want additional coverage to help pay for services ESRD Medicare doesn’t cover. If you’re still covered by an employer or union group health plan, you should also understand how Medicare works with your group health coverage. Here’s what you should know about ESRD Medicare before you enroll.

ESRD Medicare eligibility

If you have ESRD, you may be eligible for Medicare regardless of your age. You can get Medicare if:

  • Your kidneys no longer work
  • You have had a kidney transplant or need regular dialysis
  • You, your spouse or dependent child has worked the required amount of time under Social Security, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), or as a government employee, OR you are already eligible for or getting Social Security or RRB benefits.

Contact Social Security or the RRB about the amount of time required to be eligible for Medicare.

What’s covered by ESRD Medicare?

ESRD Medicare coverage gives you access to:

  • Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient hospital stays or temporary time at a skilled nursing facility and some home health care and hospice care, and
  • Medicare Part B, which helps pay for doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services.
  • Kidney transplants
  • Hospital inpatient dialysis
  • Outpatient dialysis from Medicare-certified facilities
  • Home dialysis training, equipment and supplies for you or your caregiver
  • Medications related to treatment

Medicare usually doesn’t pay for:

  • Transportation to a dialysis facility
  • Paid dialysis aides to help with home dialysis training
  • Income lost due to home dialysis training
  • A place to stay during treatment
  • Blood or red blood cells for home dialysis treatment unless these are included in a doctors’ services.
  • Services outside of the U.S. Exceptions to this are:
    • if you’re in the U.S. when the medical emergency occurs and a foreign hospital is the nearest hospital that can treat you;
    • if you’re traveling through Canada to a U.S. state by the most direct path and the Canadian hospital is closer than a U.S. hospital; or
    • if a foreign hospital is closer to where you live than the nearest U.S. hospital that can treat your condition.

If you have Original Medicare, you can purchase a Medigap policy to supplement your Medicare coverage. Medigap may help pay for services received outside the U.S., including dialysis, if your care begins during the first 60 days of your trip and isn’t covered by Medicare.

If you get your Medicare benefits through a Medicare Advantage Plan instead of Original Medicare, you cannot purchase a Medigap policy. Medicare Advantage Plans do not typically provide services outside of the U.S., but your plan may allow you to receive services outside of your network in case of an emergency.

Can I get prescription drug coverage with ESRD Medicare?

Medicare Part B, which you can receive based on ESRD, provides coverage for transplant drugs after you receive a covered kidney transplant as well as many dialysis drugs, but it doesn’t cover prescription medications for other health conditions. To receive help paying for prescriptions unrelated to ESRD, you’ll need Medicare Part D.

If you qualify for ESRD Medicare coverage, you can join a Medicare drug plan during your seven-month enrollment period. This period starts three months before the month you become eligible for Medicare and ends three months after that month. Alternatively, if you qualify for ESRD Medicare, you can choose a Medicare Advantage Plan with drug coverage.

Can I get Medicare Advantage with ESRD?

If you are eligible for Medicare due to ESRD, you can get a Medicare Advantage Plan. You must be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B and can choose from available plans in your area. You will likely have access to an HMO or PPO plan with drug coverage. ESRD qualifies you for a unique Medicare Advantage Plan called Chronic Condition Special Needs Plans (C-SNPs), but they are not as widely available. Search for plans in your area on the Medicare website.

Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer extra benefits that are not covered by Medicare, such as drug coverage, hearing, vision, and dental. Most HMOs and C-SNPs require you to use network providers, so make sure your preferred providers and facilities are in network for the plan you choose. PPOs allow you to see out of network providers, but you pay more out-of-pocket costs.

Medicare Advantage Plans are the alternative to traditional Medicare. If you choose a Medicare Advantage Plan, you cannot purchase a Medigap plan.

When does ESRD Medicare coverage start and end?

Your ESRD Medicare coverage start date depends on your condition and treatment.

If you’re on dialysis:

  • There is a four-month waiting period. Coverage usually begins the first day of the fourth month of your dialysis treatments, regardless of when you sign up or if you’re still covered by an employer health plan.
  • You can avoid this four-month waiting period and have your ESRD Medicare coverage start the first month of your dialysis treatments if:
    • if you participate in a home dialysis training program through a Medicare-certified training facility during the first three months of your dialysis treatments, or
    • your doctor says you’ll finish training and be able to perform your own dialysis treatments.
  • ESRD Medicare can be applied retroactively up to 12 months before the month you apply. If you are already receiving Medicare, or if you have completed your home dialysis training, your coverage should include preparatory surgery and services for dialysis.

If you’re getting a kidney transplant:

  • Your ESRD Medicare coverage could begin the month you’re admitted to a Medicare-certified hospital for your transplant, provided the transplant occurs within the next two months.
  • For transplants that are delayed by more than two months after you’re admitted to the hospital, Medicare coverage can begin two months before your transplant occurs.

Your ESRD Medicare coverage end date is 12 months after the month you stop dialysis or 36 months after your kidney transplant. Coverage can resume if you start dialysis again, get a kidney transplant within 12 months of when you stopped dialysis or get another kidney transplant within 36 months of your previous kidney transplant.

How much does Medicare with ESRD cost?

Monthly premiums:

You’ll receive premium-free Medicare Part A if you qualify for Medicare coverage based on ESRD. Medicare Part B has a premium, which is either deducted from your Social Security or RRB benefits or billed to you. In 2022, the standard Part B premium, which most people pay, is $170.10 per month. . If your annual income is above $91,000 (individual) or $182,000 (joint) you will pay more.

Deductibles, copays, and coinsurance:

The Part B deductible in 2022 is $233. After you reach this amount in payments, you’ll generally only pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for most doctor services, outpatient therapy, and durable medical equipment (DME). If you have Original Medicare with a Medigap plan, the 20% coinsurance is covered. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you may be responsible for copays or coinsurance, depending on your plan’s network.

Late enrollment penalty:

ESRD can absolve you of the late enrollment penalty levied on people who don’t sign up for Medicare Part B on time. If you’re already enrolled in Medicare when you become ESRD eligible and have been paying a Part B late enrollment penalty, the penalty will stop when you become ESRD Medicare eligible. You’ll need to contact your local Social Security office to re-enroll in Medicare based on ESRD.

How to enroll in Medicare with ESRD

If you’re eligible for Medicare due to ESRD, you can enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B online through Social Security. You may be able to make an in-person appointment if your case cannot be handled easily on the phone. The Medicare hotline is still available to answer questions at (800) 633-4227.

The online application process usually doesn’t require any documentation or signatures and takes only 10 minutes. Be prepared to provide:

  • Your date and place of birth;
  • Medicaid number and start and end dates, if applicable;
  • Permanent Residence Card number if you aren’t a U.S. citizen, and
  • The start and end dates for your current health insurance through your or your spouse’s employer.

You can enroll in Medicare because of ESRD even if you’re still covered by an employer or union group health plan. More details on how ESRD Medicare works with other coverage options are provided below.

When you enroll, you’ll also have the option of choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan with drug coverage as an alternative to traditional Medicare, or a stand-alone Part D prescription drug plan if you keep traditional Medicare. You’ll have the option to change your plan elections each year.

How does ESRD Medicare work with other coverage options?

Since ESRD Medicare doesn’t start right away, you may want to keep your employer or union group health plan, which can help pay for treatments during the three-month waiting period before ESRD Medicare coverage begins.

ESRD Medicare is unique because of the three-month waiting period before coverage begins and a “30-month coordination period,” which is explained below. Medicare.gov provides a helpful resource about ESRD Medicare, and you can contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to discuss your coverage options.

30-month coordination period:

Once you become eligible for ESRD Medicare, which usually occurs in your fourth month of dialysis, there will be a 30-month “coordination period” when your employer or union group health plan continues to pay your medical bills. This coordination period begins the first month you become eligible for ESRD Medicare, even if you haven’t signed up for Medicare yet.

During the coordination period, your group health plan pays first and Medicare pays second. This means that if your group health plan doesn’t pay all of your health care bills during this time, Medicare may cover some of the remaining costs. This may include help paying your group health plan deductible, copayment, or coinsurance.

At the end of the coordination period, Medicare will pay first for all services covered by your plan and your group health plan may help pay remaining costs.

There will be a new 30-month coordination period each time you enroll in Medicare due to ESRD even if you don’t have the three-month waiting period for Medicare to begin. For example, if you have a kidney transplant that works for 36 months, and you don’t turn 65 during that time period, your Medicare coverage will end. If you then start dialysis again later and re-enroll in Medicare, your coverage will begin immediately. However, there will still be a new 30-month coordination period if you’re still on a group health plan.

When to enroll in Medicare if you have a group health plan:

If your group health plan covers most or all of your services, you may want to delay enrolling in Medicare until the 30-month coordination period is over. This way, you won’t have to pay the Part B premium that you don’t need. You won’t incur a penalty premium for delaying Part B coverage in such a situation. If your group health plans stop or are decreased, you should enroll in Medicare as soon as possible.

If you haven’t enrolled in Medicare yet, you could also get a Health Insurance Marketplace plan instead, which may provide tax credits or reduced cost-sharing options. Many states have agencies and kidney programs to help with the health care costs Medicare doesn’t cover. Contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to learn more about your state’s coverage options.

Tell your health care provider if you have employer or union group health coverage to ensure the services are billed correctly.

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Medicare consultant

Roseann Birch has worked in the insurance industry for more than 35 years. In 2006, she moved to selling insurance and, by 2009, Birch made Medicare her area of expertise after observing the struggles of older adults to understand Medicare. Although many adults age 65 and older are eligible for Medicare, nearly just as many don’t understand how it works.

Birch has learned the ins and outs of Medicare and its variations and supplements to help beneficiaries and their families understand benefits. She finds there is often misinformation and makes it her mission to clear up the confusion so that everyone can enjoy the full extent of Medicare benefits.

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