White House, Congress Conferring on Medicare Premium Hike

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By Mindy Yoch elson

Oct. 15 — Administration officials have been talking with members of Congress about the impending increase in the Medicare Part B premium that will result from the announcement Oct. 15 that there will be no Social Security cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA), White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“There have been discussions that the administration has had with members of Congress about this issue and how to resolve it,” Earnest said during the daily press briefing Oct. 15.

He said discussion on the issue was part of talks to resolve several differences over the fiscal 2016 budget. “The goal would be to try to alleviate the unintended burden on those Medicare recipients who will see a much higher premium” next year,” Earnest said.

Need for Pay-For

Earnest said the conversations haven't reached the point of how to finance a solution.

The projected premium increase wouldn't affect 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who fall under a “hold harmless” provision in the Social Security Act as a result of having their Part B premium, which pays for doctor visits, deducted from their Social Security check.

Attention has been focused on the 30 percent of beneficiaries not covered by the provision who would bear the brunt of the jump from $104.90 to $159.30. These include those beneficiaries who have been advised to hold off collecting Social Security to increase the size of their benefit.

In addition, for all beneficiaries, the Part B deductible would go from $147 to $223.

Announcement to Come From HHS

It hasn't been announced when the Department of Health and Human Services will inform the public about the changes.

Sean Cavanaugh, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicare at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said Oct. 14 that the situation resulted after CMS actuaries found that Part B expenses were growing faster than previously predicted, leading to a need to “rebuild the margin.” With 70 percent of beneficiaries exempt from the increase, “the amount you need to recoup from the others almost quadrupled,” he said.

Dozens of groups have asked Congress to intervene and bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to freeze 2016 Part B premiums at their current levels, including S. 2148, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. In the House, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) sponsored legislation (H.R. 3696).

It's “critical that Republicans now join the effort to immediately resolve this problem,” Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, said in an Oct. 15 statement.

Republicans want the legislation, which could cost over $7 billion, to be offset.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mindy Yochelson in Washington at myochelson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Janey Cohen at jcohen@bna.com