Expert's View

Here we go again. For the second straight year, some retirees and survivors who are covered by Medicare Part B aren’t seeing an increase in their premiums while others are. How come?

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It’s because of a “hold harmless” provision in the Social Security Act, which protects Social Security beneficiaries from having their benefits reduced. Although that provision was intended to prevent those with limited incomes from having their Social Security benefits reduced if the economy went sour, this year and last it is has had the unintended consequence of protecting them from having to pay increased premiums for their Part B coverage.

According to Medicare, this means that almost three-quarters of Medicare beneficiaries won’t have an increase in their 2011 Part B monthly premiums. However, the rest of them will. That’s because they aren’t covered by the hold harmless provision. The losers include new enrollees in Part B, those who are subject to the income-related additional premium amount, and those who don’t have their Part B premiums withheld from Social Security benefit payments. The latter group includes those folks who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid and have their Part B premiums paid on their behalf by Medicaid.

So there you have the answer. Even while those of us who didn’t see an increase in our Part B premiums count our blessings, I wonder how we’ll feel when we once again receive a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. For those who have incomes between $85,000 and $107, 000 ($170,000 and $214,000, if married), Part B premiums will suddenly increase. For the last few years they’ve been paying $96.40 per month. In 2011, that basic monthly rate for those not being “held harmless” has risen to $115.40. What it will be in 2012 remains to be seen.