Lawmakers at impasse on measure to halt Medicare premium hike

By Annette M. Boyle

Leading Democrats say House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) must accept the blame if Congress fails to prevent a sharp increase in Medicare premiums for certain beneficiaries next year, according to The Hill.

Unless Congress acts before the Columbus Day recess, about 30 percent of Medicare Part B beneficiaries will see a 52 percent spike in premiums. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says that she has repeatedly tried to develop a compromise that would avert the Medicare cuts that will cause the premium increase, according to the article. Boehner, who will resign from Congress at the end of this month, wants a bill that offsets the $7.5 billion cost of preventing the cuts, but Democrats' proposal does not include a mechanism for offsetting that cost.

"There's no pay-for right now. If we can give trillion-dollar tax cuts with no pay-for, it seems to me we can protect our seniors," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told the publication.

The bill proposed by the Democrats would not avoid all the cuts, but would reduce the amount of money seniors would pay in their premiums.

The expected premium increase results from Social Security and Medicare rules, FierceHealthPayer has reported. A Social Security cost-of-living increase would spread the higher costs across a broader base of beneficiaries, but one isn't expected for 2016. Consequently, only the 30 percent of Part B beneficiaries who did not qualify for the "hold harmless" Social Security provision are anticipated to bear the full brunt of the increase.

If Congress cannot agree on a way to reduce or prevent the increases, the White House could also establish a Medicare contingency fund or take other administrative action to reduce the impact of the increase.  

Average premiums for the increasingly popular Medicare Advantage program, however, are set to decrease by $0.31 next year. 

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