Medicare premiums to jump in 2016, but Social Security benefits stay flat

Retirees are facing a double-whammy next year: no inflation adjustment in their Social Security benefits and a whopping 52 percent jump in certain Medicare premiums.

The Medicare premium hikes will hit only 30 percent of beneficiaries – those who are not protected from a “hold-harmless” provision in federal law that prohibits any premium hike that produces a net reduction in Social Security benefits. But the likely increases suggest strongly that the recent trend of moderate healthcare inflation is ending.

Let’s start with the Social Security news. Final figures for 2016 will not be available until the fall, but the recent annual report of Social Security’s trustees projects that there will not be any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) next year. The COLA is determined by averaging together third-quarter inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Inflation has been flat due to collapsing oil prices.

1On the healthcare front, renewed cost pressures are pointing toward much higher Medicare premiums starting next year, according to the Medicare trustees’ annual report.

Consider the monthly premium for Part B (outpatient services), which has stayed at $104.90 for the past three years. The Medicare trustees projected that the premium will jump 52 percent, to $159.30 for beneficiaries who are not protected by the hold harmless provision.

That would include anyone enrolled in Medicare who is not yet taking Social Security benefits due to a decision to delay enrollment. It also would include new enrollees in Medicare next year. (The increase also would be applied to low-income beneficiaries whose premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs).

High-income retirees – another group that is not protected by the hold-harmless provision – also will be hit hard if the trustee projections hold.

Affluent seniors already pay more for Medicare Part B and also Part D for prescription-drug coverage. This year, for example, higher-income seniors pay between $146.90 and $335.70 monthly for Part B, depending on their income, rather than $104.90.
The Medicare trustees now project that to jump even more.

Learn more in my column at Reuters Money.

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