Senior Voice -

By Rita Hatch
Senior Voice Correspondent 

Medicare Part D plans and Part B premiums

News and Views from Rita

 


Winter has finally arrived, with one small fall of the flaky, white stuff and if the prognosticators are to be believed, due to the imminent arrival of “El Nino,” it will be a mild one. At my age I am forever thankful. I used to welcome snow, when I could go “sno-go” riding and even take a turn on the old skis, but now snow is just a nuisance.

It is again time to remind us that winter brings slippery steps, streets, roads and don’t forget fallen leaves, and we have to step carefully. And that if we are taken to a hospital for observation, that does not mean we are admitted to a hospital and you cannot depend on Medicare paying the bill. The hospital billing persons or nurses must tell you if your admission is really an admission or just an observation.

This is also the time to be thinking about your medications. If you are on Medicare Part D, the drug program, please remember that each year the pharmaceutical companies know that this is the time when they can start gouging you again. Prices of your drugs will rise, along with the premiums and until our government decides to give us “Medicare for all,” and negotiates the cost of medicines, we are at the mercy of the drug companies.

The solution, of course, is for each and every one of us to start badgering our elected legislators and let them know that they will not be re-elected unless they start working for the people that elected them and not the lobbyists who bribe them.

I have gone over the 2016 plans (they are laid out on page 7) and in my opinion there are no best policies. You are going to be gouged again by the rise in the premiums, which range from $18.40 to $72.50 and the deductibles are either 0 or $360. Why do the insurance companies have to charge you such high premiums? If you are as outraged as I am, you will contact your senators and representatives and start screaming that you want the same kind of insurance that they have.

There is no reason on this earth that you should have to be paying such high premiums or deductibles, and wait until you see the costs of the medications!

Be sure to ask for Extra Help

Everyone should apply for Extra Help, whether you think you may be eligible or not. You may be surprised. You can apply by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or if you are on the Internet at http://www.social security.gov. You might be eligible if you are a dual eligible (on Medicare and Medicaid) or on SSI or you get help from the state to pay your Medicare premium.

Warning: Part B price increases

Unfortunately I now have some bad news to report. Approximately 30 million Americans will see a huge (50 percent) increase in the Medicare Part B premium. This is the premium that you pay each month (usually deducted from your Social Security payment) and is mandated by law to cover 25 percent of the projected per capita costs for Part B, which pays for doctor bills and other costs not covered by Part A (hospitalization costs).

The Part B premiums have been just under $105 for the last three years, and it is projected to reach $159 in 2016 and then drop to $120 in 2017. There has been legislation introduced into Congress that could freeze the Part D premium and deductible for 2016 but that is not likely to happen.

There is a “hold harmless” provision, which guarantees that the dollar amount of a premium increase cannot be so large that it will decrease the amount of the Social Security check you received in the previous month. The problem remains that there will be no cost-of-living increase in 2016, even though the premium will rise, and that means that older people will face higher health care costs, as illustrated above.

The Part B deductible will rise from $147 in 2015 to $223 in 2016 and will fall back to $169 in 2017. This will particularly be a burden on beneficiaries who live just above the poverty line and aren’t eligible for assistance from Medicaid in paying deductibles.

This is a mess that can only be fixed by Congress, which should consider holding all beneficiaries “harmless” or changing the rule that premiums must cover a quarter of the costs.

If you understand that changes must be made, then you have to be active. Call, write or email your Senator and Congressman and let them know that you want them to fix this problem or you will work to see that they never get elected again.

Rita Hatch is an Older Persons Action Group board member and volunteers for OPAG’s Medicare assistance program. Call her at 276-1059 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-1059 toll-free statewide. Her email address is ritaopag@gci.net.

 
 

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