Will my Canadian husband be eligible for spousal social security benefits and Medicare when he's 65?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I am a 60 year-old U.S. citizen and employed with the U.S. government and currently am living and working abroad (but pay federal/state taxes, etc.) My husband is 61 and a Canadian citizen but has a permanent resident status. We have been married for 3 1/2 years. Before we married and he lived in Canada he had been on disability for the previous 2 years. We did not want to apply for any disability when he moved to the U.S. to live and marry me. I want to know if he will be eligible for spousal social security benefits and if he will be able to get medicare when he reaches 65?

Expert Answer

Your husband's eligibility for Social Security benefits and for Medicare coverage are two different things, so let's take them one at a time.

As a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., married to a U.S. citizen, your husband will be eligible for Social Security spousal (also called dependents) benefits based on your work record. When he becomes eligible, and the amount he collects, will depend on your age (his age won't be a factor because he's older than you) and when you claim benefits. Whenever you claim Social Security retirement benefits based on your work record, your husband can claim spousal/dependents benefits, which is usually about 50 percent of what you receive in retirement benefits. If you claim reduced retirement benefits after you turn age 62 but before you reach full retirement age (for you, full retirement age is 66), then the amount of his benefits are likewise permanently reduced. Until you reach full retirement age, your husband cannot claim spousal benefits unless you claim retirement benefits. After you reach full retirement age, you can claim your retirement benefits -- which allows your husband to begin collecting spousal benefits -- but suspend collection of those own retirement benefits (up to age 70), which means the amount of your retirement benefits will continue to grow until you actually begin collecting them.

The rules regarding your husband's Medicare eligibility are less complicated. As a permanent legal resident of the U.S., your husband will be eligible for free Medicare Part A coverage (inpatient hospital and skilled nursing home care) when he turns 65, based on your work record (even though you won't yet be 65 at the time), whether or not you or he has actually claimed Social Security benefits. He will also be eligible for Medicare Part B coverage (outpatient medical costs) when he turns 65 if he has lawfully resided in the U.S. for five consecutive years before enrolling. So, his eligibility for Medicare Part B will depend on when he actually became a legal permanent resident, not on the date of your marriage. If he's eligible for Medicare Part B, he would also be eligible for a Medigap supplemental insurance policy, or a Medicare Advantage (Part C) health plan, and a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.