2005-09-21 / Seniors

Medicare Premium Going Up 13% To $88.50 A Month Next Year

Here we go again!

The basic Medicare monthly premium will go up to $88.50 next year, an increase of about $10 from what 42 million Medicare members are paying now, the Bush presidential administration announced last week.

The premium is deducted from a member’s Social Security check, which may make the increase less painful. In all probability, the new prescription drug coverage many members will start receiving next January 1 will also be deducted from their Social Security checks, another $32 or so that some seniors won’t notice is being withheld.

That’s $120.50 seniors are paying up front for basic doctor’s services, X-rays, and diagnostic tests under Part B, along with the prescription drug coverage. Add to that another $110 that members pay for the Medicare deductible, and basic out-of-pocket health care expenses for an individual senior add up to $244.50.

Whoever said seniors were getting a free ride for their medical care was sadly mistaken.

All of these expenditures come at a time seniors’ home heating bills are predicted probably to increase sharply this year because of the fuel shortage, making the picture even bleaker.

However, whatever savings might be realized from the new prescription drug coverage plan must be factored in. This is no certainty, however, because seniors will be enrolling in the prescription drug coverage program for the first time and will have to wait to see if promised savings develop.

Federal medical officials say that the Medicare premium and deductible are steadily increasing because the federal government is paying doctors more for the services they perform. Private healthcare plans that cover Medicare eligible members are also getting more money from Washington for the services they perform.

The reason for higher payments to doctors and the healthcare plans is the same in both cases—both doctors and healthcare plans are providing more care to patients, more doctor visits, more X-rays and MRIs, so the costs keep going up.

Fortunately, in general, health and longevity are improving, too. Preventive health care, which is being practiced by doctors, keeps seniors in better health and reduces costly hospital stays which in turn reduces the federal government’s Medicare costs also.

In the overall scheme, seniors’ medical costs go up steadily, year after year, because doctor and health care services keep improving each year. In some cases, doctors may be giving unnecessary care to some individuals, but this is hard to measure and hard to control, federal health officials say.

Basically, it is the individual Medicare member who can best exert some control over steadily rising costs. Perhaps as word gets around about the new increase in the Medicare premium and the increase in the deductible for 2006, Medicare members might start complaining about the current costly trend in health care and could bring about some changes. We’ll have to wait and see.

SEEK HIGHER CO-PAYS FOR MEDICAID, TOO: There was also a report from Washington last week that a panel known as the Medicaid Commission is proposing that co-payments required from Medicaid patients should be increased from $3 to $5. These involve doctor visits for adults, dispensing of prescription drugs and outpatient hospital visits. The minimum co-payment hasn’t been changed for more than 20 years, the report said.

Bush Administration officials said the $2 increase in the co-payment was not a great imposition on an individual, but doctors argued against it, saying it would deter some people from continuing to schedule doctor visits. The change would ultimately have to be approved by the Congress.

The proposed co-payment increase is the latest in a series of proposals to reduce costs for Medicaid, the healthcare program for low-income persons.

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