U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is calling for a legislative fix to prevent monthly premium cost increases for Medicare beneficiaries.
The Medicare Trustees Report predicts 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will see a more than 50 percent increase to their monthly premium in 2016, from $104 to $159 for the part of their plan that covers lab tests, surgeries, doctor visits and medical supplies.
Casey said that increase will be substantial for seniors.
“So we shouldn’t let uncertainty hang over our nation’s Medicare beneficiaries. I believe we have an abiding obligation to give them peace of mind in knowing that Medicare will remain affordable,” he said.
The premium rates will be released in the next few weeks, but Casey said he does not expect the predicted increase to change based on national Medicare spending history and the fact that the government will likely not make a cost of living Social Security adjustment in 2016 because inflation is low.
A majority of people enrolled in Medicare Part B won’t have to pay the increase because of the “hold harmless” rule. Those recipients have their premiums automatically deducted from their monthly Social Security payment. The rule ensures those checks will not decline because of an increase in Medicare cost.
The other estimated 7 million people pay income-related premiums as they are in a higher income pool -- $85,000 for an individual and $170,000 for a married couple. The rule doesn’t apply to them.
Casey said planned legislation by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would ensure those people won’t have to pay the difference.
“That’s a lot of money over the course of even a year when you consider these are individuals on fixed incomes. Many of them are alone, many of them are isolated. And these dollars are precious in terms of them meeting their expenses,” he said.
In Allegheny County, 234,527 people opt-in to Medicare Part B coverage. The federal government has not released numbers of how many people will be affected by the increases, but it says overall 30 percent will be affected -- about 70,358 in the county.
Casey’s staff estimated the legislation could cost in the low, single-digit billions or high, double-digit billions if passed.
The nine supporting Democratic senators do not have a revenue source, but Casey said with bi-partisan support he expects to find one.