If you had Medicare before your arrest, you will remain eligible for the program while you are in jail or prison. Once you are in jail for 30 days or more and are convicted of a crime, any Social Security Retirement benefits or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) you receive will stop. However, neither jail nor prison affects your eligibility for Medicare.

If you are under 65 and qualify for Medicare due to disability, Medicare will not start to cover your care until you resume or reinstate your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) after release. Once you know your release date, contact the Social Security Administration to learn about requirements for reinstating your Medicare and SSDI benefits.

To pay the Part B premium while incarcerated, you will need to set up direct payment with Medicare by calling 1-800-MEDICARE within 30 days of your conviction. The reason you must set up direct payment is any Social Security benefit checks you get will stop after you are convicted. This means your Part B premiums are no longer being taken from your Social Security check.

If you fail to pay your Part B premiums while incarcerated, you will be disenrolled from Part B. If you are disenrolled from Part B, you may go months without health coverage upon your release. You may have to wait until the General Enrollment Period (January 1 –March 31 of every year) to enroll and wait until July 1 for your Part B coverage to start again. Also, if you are disenrolled from Part B you may face lifelong premium penalties which will make your Medicare coverage more expensive.

While you should try to keep your Part B when you are incarcerated, if you cannot afford to keep it, remember two important points:

1) You should withdraw from Part B instead of being disenrolled. If you do nothing, Social Security will continue to bill you for Part B. When you don’t pay your premiums, you will be disenrolled. When you re-enroll in Part B upon release, Social Security will deduct the Part B premiums you failed to pay when you were incarcerated from your future Social Security checks.

2) See whether you qualify for a Medicare Savings Program (MSP). MSPs pay your Part B premiums, help you enroll into Medicare outside of enrollment periods, and waive any premium penalties. In some states, you may be able to apply for an MSP while you are still in custody. If you do qualify for an MSP, aim to enroll into the MSP in the two months before your release or, if your state does not allow you to apply while you are in custody, as soon as you are released. If you had an MSP before your incarceration, it will typically stop once you are taken into custody. You will likely need to re-apply for benefits to start upon your release.

For more, information regarding eligibility and application requirements for an MSP in your state, contact your local Medicaid office or your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). You can find you SHIP phone number at www.shiptacenter.org.