2012 Medicare Premium Increase Smaller Than Feared
- Standard Part B premium $99.90 a month for all in 2012
- Means increase of $3.50 a month for most beneficiaries
Most elderly Americans covered by the U.S. government’s Medicare insurance program will see a smaller-than-expected rise in their monthly premiums next year, health officials said on Thursday.
Standard premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits, outpatient services and some home healthcare, will be $99.90. For most Part B beneficiaries, that means paying just $3.50 a month more, compared to the $10.20 that was expected.
The annual Part B deductible will decrease by $22 to $140, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials said.
For newer and higher-income Medicare enrollees, the new standard premium represents a drop of $15.50 a month from $115.50 a month they have been paying in 2011.
A majority of Part B beneficiaries have had their premiums frozen since 2008 at $96.40 a month because the federal government-run Social Security retirement plan made no cost of living adjustments (COLA). A special provision links Part B payments with the checks from which they usually get deducted.
Last week, U.S. seniors found out their COLA checks will see a 3.6 percent bump in 2012, and many worried that the awaited increase would get gobbled right up by an expected Medicare premium hike.
Instead, the return of COLA payments means the new Part B costs are again spread among all Medicare members, not just newer and higher-income beneficiaries.
“More people are sharing in the smaller-than-expected increases in costs,” said Dr. Don Berwick, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator, who said the healthcare reform passed last year also helped limit costs.
The surprisingly modest premium increase announced on Thursday could lift some pressure from President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats in Congress as they seek to win over U.S. seniors ahead of the 2012 election.
“Millions of America’s seniors are struggling with higher expenses … and this small increase is welcome news,” AARP legislative policy director David Certner said in a statement.
AARP, the leading lobby group for American seniors, still fears deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security may emerge from a Congressional “super committee” tasked with finding ways to cut U.S. debt.
Some 44 million Americans were enrolled in Medicare Part B in 2010 when the program’s benefits spending reached almost $210 billion, according to the 2011 Medicare Trustees’ report. The U.S. government covers about three-quarters of Part B benefits, while the premiums paid by seniors cover the rest.