Sunday, February 25, 2018
Health

For many, rising premiums for Part B Medicare will erase Social Security gains

More than 2.4 million seniors in Florida rely on Medicare, and a good chunk of them could face rising health care premiums next year.

With Medicare's annual open enrollment period beginning Sunday, most of the changes to plans and services seem slight for 2018. But experts say Floridians will be among the millions affected nationwide by anticipated rising premiums for Part B plans, which cover outpatient care, doctor bills, physical therapy and more routine health services.

A TIMES SPECIAL REPORT: What you need to know for Medicare open enrollment 2018

Part B is optional to enroll in and costs most people a monthly premium, which was on average around $134 in 2017, depending on the enrollee's income. However, participants paid around $109 a month if they chose to have the monthly fee deducted from their Social Security checks. These are the prices that will rise in 2018, analysts say.

And, for many, the hike will eat up most of the 2 percent increase in Social Security payments that the government announced on Friday. Typical recipients will get $27 more in their monthly check in 2018, but experts estimate that Part B premiums paid through Social Security will likely be $20 to $30 more a month.

Most of the seniors affected by these rising costs have been shielded from cost increases for several years, said Troy Quast, a health care economist at the University of South Florida. And since there was no cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security in 2016, Part B monthly premiums didn't go up that year. The monthly price has remained flat for the last three years.

RELATED: Social Security benefits to rise 2 percent, largest bump since 2012

"The exact health premiums haven't been set yet for 2018, but looking at the Social Security adjustments that are coming, it looks like seniors will have to pay for that gap, which will be rough," Quast said.

The "hold harmless provision," created to protect seniors living on fixed incomes, won't allow Medicare to raise Part B premiums if doing so would could reduce a person's Social Security benefits. But the new cost-of-living adjustment allows room for the uptick in prices.

Part B premiums are projected to rise an average of 5.4 percent each year from now through 2024, which is faster than other parts of Medicare, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Another Part B change will affect a smaller group of seniors, particularly those in higher income brackets, who pay a surcharge that increases their premiums. Due to federal legislation enacted in 2015, most of those brackets are being adjusted in a way that will put more people in the higher income tiers, increasing their premiums.

For example, the top tier, where people pay the highest surcharges, soon will be expanded to include individuals making more than $160,000. That's down from $214,000 currently. Similarly, the next tier down will start at $133,001 in individual income instead of the current $160,001.

"The wealthiest will see a bump in their premiums, for sure. We're talking about folks in the top income levels, so not too many people will affected, but prices are going up," said Anne Swerlick of the Florida Policy Institute.

TO YOUR HEALTH: Keep track of trends and new developments that affect you. Visit the Times health page.

Aside from premium increases, many seniors who rely on government-funded "navigator" programs during the enrollment period may have to look elsewhere for assistance.

In Florida and across the country, programs designed to help people find and enroll in a Medicare plan are at risk in 2018. Florida SHINE, which is a Medicare navigator through the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, is among the dozens of programs that could have its budget cut by the federal government by up to 90 percent. A Florida Senate committee budget from June aimed to eliminate all funding for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, which funds programs like SHINE.

"These programs help elders navigate through what their options are, especially during the open enrollment periods," Swerlick said. "It can be quite complicated. Eliminating a program like SHINE will have a tremendous impact on the state of Florida, which has so many seniors enrolled in Medicare and who depend on this kind of assistance."

The good news is some prices will go down. Part D, which covers prescription drugs, will see a drop in prices for the first time in five years of $1.20. That will bring the premium to around $33.50 a month.

For the most part, though, it seems that most Medicare plans will remain close to the same — with some premiums going up and others going down, and some expanding coverage. However, any change could mean some doctors may no longer be part of the network, or certain prescription medications may become more expensive or not be covered at all. Enrollees are urged to research the options available for 2018 before electing for the same plan from years prior.

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

Comments
Mental illness dominating post-Parkland gun debate, but at what cost?

Mental illness dominating post-Parkland gun debate, but at what cost?

A familiar and polarizing tug of war over gun control and access to guns has re-emerged in the week since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, thrusting mental illness once again into the national conversation about mass ...
Published: 02/24/18
After Parkland, admissions to mental health treatment centers in Florida spike

After Parkland, admissions to mental health treatment centers in Florida spike

The emotional welfare of children follows predicatable patterns. In the fall, when school begins, beds at psychiatric treatment centers fill up. They empty again during summer break and the winter holidays.In recent years, doctors and psychologists h...
Published: 02/24/18
Doctors ordered a urine test after her surgery. That’ll be $17,850, the lab said

Doctors ordered a urine test after her surgery. That’ll be $17,850, the lab said

This is the debut of a monthly feature from Kaiser Health News and NPR that will dissect and explain real medical bills in order to shed light on U.S. health care prices and to help patients learn how to be more active in managing costs. Do you have ...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/22/18
Preventive treatment for peanut allergies succeeds in study

Preventive treatment for peanut allergies succeeds in study

The first treatment to help prevent serious allergic reactions to peanuts may be on the way. A company said Tuesday that its daily capsules of peanut flour helped sensitize children to nuts in a major study. Millions of children have peanut allergies...
Published: 02/20/18
Doctors were wrong when they told her immunotherapy wouldn’t cure her cancer

Doctors were wrong when they told her immunotherapy wouldn’t cure her cancer

No one expected the four young women to live much longer. They had an extremely rare, aggressive and fatal form of ovarian cancer. There was no standard treatment.The women, strangers to one another living in different countries, asked their doctors ...
Published: 02/20/18

Hernando Bloodmobile for Feb. 23

Bloodmobile locationsLifeSouth Community Blood Center will have blood drives at the following off-site locations during the coming week:Feb. 23: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Walmart, 13300 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill; 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Dickey’s Barbecue P...
Published: 02/20/18
Be prepared to help save a life: Learn CPR

Be prepared to help save a life: Learn CPR

70 percent of cardiac arrests outside hospitals happen at home. American Heart Association 3 a.m. Jan. 4, 2016. Lisa Peters of St. Petersburg is awakened by her husband, Rick, making strange gasping sounds. She can’t wake him. He feels cold. Only 46...
Published: 02/16/18

Step by step, ramp up your daily activity

Jae Bermanhe Washington Post There are many reasons that people avoid exercise. Time is an obvious one. Our lives are already busy — who has time to work out? Money is another common excuse. Gym memberships and equipment can get pricey.People often w...
Published: 02/16/18
Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Put Alaskan king crab leg shells to work in a creamy, dreamy bisque

Nothing says indulgence like noshing on some seriously giant Alaskan king crab legs. They’re not just tasty, they’re a low-fat source of protein: One leg has about 25 grams of protein and a host of vitamins and minerals (including sodium, incidentall...
Published: 02/15/18
Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

Avocado toast gets a persimmon twist

You’ve likely seen persimmon in the grocery store and then shied away from it, not quite sure what to do with it. The most common variety in the United States is the fuyu persimmon, also called Japanese persimmon, and it looks similar to a slightly f...
Published: 02/15/18