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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: “How do I go about dropping my Medicare Part B plan? I have health care through the VA so I really don’t need it.”—Jerry Breier

A: Wait! Don't drop that coverage...

"If you are eligible for Medicare, you should not rely solely on VA benefits for your health care needs," says Medicare Rights Center spokesperson Mitchell Clark.

The VA also states on their website that they "strongly encourage you to keep your health insurance."

The two coverages are complementary.

Because VA health care is a benefit and not insurance, you can only receive care—for free or for a small co-payment, depending on your priority group—through a VA facility.

Your Medicare Part B insurance, meanwhile, helps pay for doctors' services, outpatient care, and, most importantly, emergency room visits outside the VA.

Part B will come especially in handy if you have an emergency and need to be taken to a non-VA hospital. The VA will cover some non-VA emergency room care, but certain requirements must be met. The VA will also only pay to the point of medical stability and all claims must be filed within 90 days from the last day of the emergent care.

Also keep in mind that certain VA hospitals and facilities may not be able to perform all procedures you may want due to equipment restrictions. In that case, they may cover the cost for treatment outside the VA's network, or if there is an alternate remedy to your problem that they can perform at the VA, they will cover that procedure instead. So if there are several treatments to an ailment, you may have to go with whatever the VA can provide rather than choosing from among all possible solutions as you could with Medicare.

If you're still really set on dropping Part B, check the VA's list of service facilities to make sure there are locations near your home and other places you frequent, like your child's home or a favorite vacation spot. You should also consider the types of services you use and will likely need to use in the next several years to determine whether you'll be okay only receiving care from a VA facility.

To drop this coverage, you only need to contact Medicare (1-800-633-4227) and let them know your decision.

Should you decide you want to be reinstated, however, you will have to wait until the following January. Keep in mind that you will also likely incur a Part B premium penalty of 10% for each 12-month period you are without the coverage, warns Clark. Any savings you may have racked up from not paying Part B before could be eaten up by the higher premiums.

Let's say, for example, your current Medicare part B premium is $104 a month, as it is for most people, and you drop coverage now but then decide to re-up in two years' time. Your new premium could be $125.84, says Brentwood, Tenn. financial planner Gary Ward.

Can't afford the Part B premium? You may qualify for assistance through the state-run Medicare Savings Program. You can visit Medicare's website to find out which agency in your state runs the program.

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