November 04, 2023


Awesome! Fantastic! Very helpful! Reactions were enthusiastic to the “Medicare: Pay. No Play?” Kafeneion hosted by DAGR on Oct 25th. 

If you missed it or want to review its key takeaways:

  • Watch the video of the event on YouTube.
  • Click through the PowerPoint slides from our (excellent!) presenters, Toni Kamins (overview of what Medicare B is – and isn’t) and Heather Stone (on DA’s efforts to make Medicare Portability a reality and what you can do to help!)
  • Read on here for a behind-the-scenes recap of the virtual event by DAGR Representative-at-Large and first-time Kafeneion moderator, Gina Billy.

Fledgling Moderator's Birdseye View
By Gina Billy

The 13th DAGR virtual Kafeneion was “one of the most successful ones so far” according to our Communications Chair, Karen Lee. I agree with Karen, though it is true, things got off to a ‘bumpy start’ and I was a somewhat jittery novice moderator.  

Short version: Just as DAGR Vice Chair and Kafenion mastermind Sarajane Leone was admitting folks into the event, a thunderstorm knocked out her Internet connection (in Italy).

Oh (bleep)! I remember thinking while staring in dismay at my laptop screen here on southern Crete. What do we do now?

What we did was: Find a solution. (Like Democrats do 😊.)  After some quick back-and-forth between our expert guests, Heather Stone (in Tel Aviv) and Toni Kamins (in Paris), DAGR Chair Brady Kiesling (in Athens) took over the hosting/tech side of the event. Suddenly, my Zoom screen was showing that 21…22…23… people had joined – and that Sarajane’s Internet was magically back. That meant (I thought) we could continue as planned.

But no. The Internet gods struck again. Sarajane’s audio went haywire — then she ‘vanished.’ As the moderator, I figured the best thing to do was quickly introduce Heather and Toni, then turn things over to them. Just in my nervousness, I got confused and invited Heather to begin – when Toni was to go first. However, Toni quickly and graciously smoothed over my goof-up and got things on track. From then on, it was smooth sailing.

Medicare – what it is and isn’t

First, Toni wowed us all with her succinct and at times wry explanations about just what Medicare is — and isn’t.

A few key takeaways from this part of the Kafeneion were:

o   Sign-up for Medicare Part A (hospitalization) during the initial enrollment period (3 months before and up to 3 months after your 65th birthday.) Most people won’t have to pay a monthly premium for part A as they (and their employer(s) paid for Part A during their US-based work lives.

o   If you don’t fulfill the basic requirements for Medicare (i.e. you haven’t paid into it via US employment for at least 40 quarters), consider working for a US-based employer long enough to reach the 40-quarter minimum.

o   Medicare Parts A and B (medical insurance) are great insurance! But whether paying the usual premiums for Part B of $164.90 in 2023 makes sense or not depends on individual situations (e.g. your other insurance, how often you visit the US, how likely you think you are to return, etc.) 
Important here: If you do decide to enroll in Part B (and start paying for it) do it at the same time you enroll in Part A (during your initial enrollment period.) The penalty for joining later is steep – and the longer you delay, the more you’ll pay every month. (You’ll find a “late enrollment in Part B” penalty calculator here.)

o   Medicare has other parts (Part C Medicare Advantage, Part D prescription drug coverage, Medigap and more). These are provided by private insurers and involve additional premiums and regulations.

o   BUT right now, Medicare coverage only pays for treatments/healthcare services that take place in the United States or one of its territories.(An exception here is that some Medigap plans include foreign coverage but only for emergency care during limited travel abroad.)

The Medicare Portability Task Force

This is where the DA Medicare Portability Task Force that Toni volunteers with comes in. Toni  concluded her presentation by turning the program over to Task Force Chair, Heather Stone.

“I’m in Tel Aviv and there is currently conflict,” Heather says calmly. “There are sirens occasionally. So far so good, but in the event that there is a siren that goes off, Toni will take over.”

Heather’s poise and willingness to participate in the event despite the war were impressive – and so was her presentation (which fortunately, she could complete herself without having to take refuge in her safe room.)

First, Heather laid out how a portable Medicare would benefit Americans living/travelling abroad and potentially bring significant cost savings to Medicare across the board. She then  highlighted the DA Global task force’s accomplishments to date.

These include:

o   conducting two studies that showed the need for Medicare portability and its potential cost savings. These studies involved surveying circa 5K US Americans living abroad and comparing average costs for treating 10 conditions common to older people in respectively, the USA, Israel, and South Korea. (The price differences are mind-boggling!)

o   working patiently to bring about legislation that authorizes and funds a 10-year pilot program of Medicaid portability in 11 countries. (Alas, Greece is not one of those countries selected for piloting Medicare portability.)

What all of us can (and should) do

Heather concluded by encouraging each of us to write to our representatives and urge them to co-sponsor/support House Resolution 5299 (sponsor: Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-NY 13.) For this, you can use the task force’s model letter and modify as needed. As Toni added, “If they are Republicans, remind them that they have a job to do!”

(Aside from me: If your rep is also Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (LA-4), who was elected even as the Medicaid Kafeneion was taking place, perhaps mention that “caring for the sick” is in the Bible, too. That might help pursuade Speaker Johnson to support HR 5299.)

Additionally, you can help spread the word amongst other US Americans in your network who are living/travelling abroad and ask them to write their representatives, too. You can also join the Medicare Portability Task Force. To do that, just write an email to [email protected] or [email protected] .

The Medicare Kafeneion wrapped up with lively, fruitful  Q&A and feedback. “Thank you very much for this initiative,” said DAGR member Eirini G. (Thessaloniki.) “I really enjoyed the Kafeneion and also the presentations. Very very useful!”

Responses like Eirini’s inform (and give wings to) our Kafenieon team’s efforts to bring you more useful, enjoyable, and community-building events.

Up Next

Up next, we’re tackling tax issues for Americans living abroad on November 22nd with presenter Rebecca Lammers, Chair of DA’s Taxation Task Force. Join us – and learn about yet another way Democrats Abroad volunteers are working for and with us all.