Lawmakers, White House tackle Medicare premium hike

A concerned White House and Congress are exploring strategies to mitigate the steep rise in premiums set to hit some Medicare beneficiaries next year, the New York Times reports.

Premiums for Medicare Part B are projected to jump 52 percent in 2016, in part because of low inflation and Social Security isn't expected to pay its usual cost-of-living increase. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell is reportedly looking for ways to solve the problem.

Now other officials also appear poised to step in, as the Times reports that White House officials are considering setting up a Medicare contingency fund or a similar administrative action to lessen the premium hike. Officially, a White House spokeswoman tells the publication that "we share the goal of keeping Medicare's premiums affordable, are exploring all options, and appreciate the interest and ideas of members of Congress."

To that end, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.) has been working with outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on a legislative fix. But it won't be easy--avoiding the premium hikes could cost as much as $7.5 billion, an amount that Boehner aides say would have to be paid for by cutting spending somewhere else in the federal budget.

Still, the stakes are high for both parties, as debate over Medicare funding could add to other budget-related struggles in Congress this fall and hurt Republicans' popularity with seniors if they refuse to work with Democrats on measures to soften the premium hikes, notes the Times.

In 2014 and 2015, Part B premiums have largely held steady.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced last month that the average premium for Medicare Advantage plans will decrease by $0.31 next year. 

To learn more:
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