For the first time in many years, Americans will not receive cost-of-living increases (COLA) in their Social Security check in 2010. Millions of Medicare beneficiaries, however, will face much higher Medicare Part B premiums next year.
Medicare Part B premiums are used for Medicare-covered services such as physician services, durable medical equipment and outpatient therapy.
Under a hold-harmless provision of federal law, basic Medicare Part B premiums cannot rise higher than last year's COLA. So, a zero COLA means that the basic premium (currently $96.40 a month) must stay the same.
This hold-harmless policy gives this protection to the majority of people enrolled in Medicare Part B who also receive Social Security, Railroad Retirement or Civil Service retiree benefits.
Recent projections by AARP estimate the increase will affect about one in four Medicare beneficiaries. The increase will affect beneficiaries who:
1. Do not have their Part B premiums withheld from Social Security checks
2. Pay a Part B premium based on higher income
3. Are newly enrolled in Part B
4. Have their Part B premiums paid by Medicaid (low-income people will not be affected, but the state will pay the higher premium)
If you have questions concerning Medicare, please contact the North Dakota Insurance Department at 1-888-575-6611.
Cindy Sheldon, Bismarck, is director of the N.D. Health Insurance Counseling Program.