Posts Tagged ‘premiums’

Some Medicare Recipients Will See a Rise in 2010 Premiums

OCTOBER 26, 2009  VOLUME 16, NUMBER 59

The Medicare program has announced its 2010 premium and coinsurance rates. As predicted, an anticipated increase in medical costs will mean a steep rise in Medicare-related premiums, but federal law protects most recipients from having to pay the new rates. One effect of changes in Medicare rate-setting over the last few years will be seen more clearly in 2010. Not long ago, every Medicare beneficiary could expect to pay the same portion of his or her medical costs. Those days are over, and a confusing system of co-payments, deductibles and premiums has now gotten more confusing.

Medicare has set the annual premium increase for Part B insurance at 15%, which translates into a 2010 premium of $110.50 per month. Nearly three-quarters of Medicare beneficiaries, however, will not have to pay that higher amount. Congress limited current Medicare beneficiaries’ premium increases to no more than their Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. Since Social Security announced two months ago that there will not be a COLA increase in 2010, that means that most Medicare beneficiaries will continue to pay $96.40 per month for Part B.

Who will pay the higher figure? Three groups of people:

  1. People who have been receiving Medicare but have not had Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks, for whatever reason, are not protected from the increased premiums.
  2. New Medicare beneficiaries are not protected, either. If you start receiving Medicare benefits in 2010 for the first time, you will pay the higher rate.
  3. Wealthy Medicare beneficiaries are not protected from increases. If a single person makes more than $85,000 per year, or a married couple more than $170,000, they will see the increase in their Part B premiums.

Wealthy Medicare beneficiaries actually get a double dose of increased premiums. Not only are they not protected from the 2010 increase, but they may also have to pay higher premiums based on their income levels. For the wealthiest Medicare beneficiaries — those whose individual income is over $214,000, or couples whose income is over $428,000 — the new Part B premium will be $353.60 per month.

Income for these calculations is determined by reference to the beneficiary’s 2008 income tax return. For those whose income has dropped since that year, it is possible to request a revision based on a later year’s tax returns.

Other premiums, co-payments and deductibles are also set to increase in 2010. Among the increases: an anticipated typical rise by about $2 in monthly Part D (drug plan) premiums nationwide.

Social Security Probably Won’t Have a Cost of Living Increase

AUGUST 24, 2009  VOLUME 16, NUMBER 52

According to the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicaid trust funds, it looks like the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security next year will be, well, zero. In other words retirees, those on Social Security Disability and even Supplemental Security Income recipients will see no increase in their Social Security checks in 2010.

A summary of the Trustee’s report is available online, and it makes for interesting reading. The Trustees have provided explanations, figures, projections and calculations — and also some calculations of the real-world effect of those projections on individual beneficiaries and the funds as a whole.

If the no-COLA projections are correct, it would be the first year without an increase since COLAs were introduced in 1975 (you can see the history of COLAs since 1975 in a chart maintained by the Social Security Administration). The law mandating COLAs does not allow for reductions in Social Security benefits, so at least no one will see any automatic decreases.

Well, that’s not quite correct. Some recipient’s checks will go down, since their Medicare Part B premiums may increase — though only about one-quarter of Social Security recipients will be affected by that possibility. For the rest, Part B premiums are not permitted to increase by more than the COLA amount. With no COLA projected, that means no increase in Part B premiums. For those whose premiums are indexed for income, however, that may mean large increases in Part B premiums.

In addition, Medicare Part D (the drug benefit) premiums are expected to increase slightly for most Social Security beneficiaries. Since those premiums are automatically deducted from Social Security, the effect for most recipients will be a decrease in their monthly checks.

The culprit, of course, is mostly the recession and the general economic slowdown. Despite the lack of a COLA, most Social Security beneficiaries are actually paying more for their basic needs this year — partly because they pay more for health care, where costs have not held steady or decreased as they have for many consumer goods.

The projections are murkier for next year, of course, but the Trustees predict that there will likely be no COLA in 2011, either. Their planning assumes only a small COLA in 2012.

The final numbers will not be released for another two months, but anyone receiving Social Security benefits should assume that they will not be seeing any increase next year. That will be a significant change from last October, when Social Security announced a 5.8% COLA — the largest since 1982 (see the Social Security chart, which provides year-by-year figures for the COLAs).

What effect does the lack of a COLA have on the Social Security and Medicare trust funds? The Trustees predict that Social Security’s trust fund is adequately funded for the next ten years, but that beginning in 2014 (two years earlier than estimated last year) payouts will begin to exceed the fund’s value. The hospital insurance portion of Medicare’s fund looks even bleaker; it will begin being spent down in 2011 and run out in 2017.

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