Senators John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) today introduced legislation to protect approximately 12 million seniors and individuals with disabilities who are scheduled to pay increased Medicare premiums next year.
"We have a responsibility to protect all Medicare beneficiaries from unfair premium increases," Sen. Kerry said. "Every penny counts right now, and twelve million seniors and individuals with disabilities are depending on us to restore fairness to the Medicare system. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to pass this legislation before the end of the year."
"During these tough economic times, many of our seniors are in need of financial relief to help make ends meet and pay for their health care," Sen. Dodd said. "Without a Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment increase, many of our country's senior citizens will not be able afford an increase in their monthly Medicare Part B premiums. The Medicare Fairness Act would ensure that seniors across the country and in my state of Connecticut are protected against an increase in their monthly premiums and will continue to have access to high quality health care they can afford."
"Under current law, some seniors are protected against increased premiums while others are not," Sen. Bingaman said. "This legislation fixes that unfair provision in the law, ensuring that all seniors are treated equally. I hope we move quickly to approve this bill in the Senate."
"Too many older Americans are already struggling to make ends meet," Sen. Casey said. "Increasing Medicare premiums when there has been no increase in Social Security payments will only make this problem worse. The "hold harmless' protections in current law should be expanded to protect Medicare recipients from having their costs go up when their Social Security has not."
This month the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the Medicare premiums for 2011. The majority of Medicare beneficiaries will continue to pay the same $96.40 premium they have paid since 2008. However, 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries (approximately 12 million Americans) will pay at least $225 more in premiums than the majority of beneficiaries.
For most beneficiaries, Medicare premiums will not rise due to a hold-harmless provision in the law that protects them in years when there is no increase in Social Security benefits. However, new Medicare enrollees, low-income Medicaid beneficiaries and seniors who do not receive Social Security are not protected by this hold harmless provision. As a result, they will have their premiums disproportionately increased to shoulder the full load of the premium increases for the seniors who are protected.
The bill, called the Medicare Premium Fairness Act, will extend the current hold harmless policy equally to all Medicare enrollees. Specifically, the monthly Part B premium would remain at $96.40 for all Medicare enrollees. No seniors, disabled or low-income families would see a decrease in their Social Security checks. Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 406 to 18 in September 2009. However, Republicans have used procedural maneuvers to block the passage of this legislation in the Senate.