House passes bill stopping Medicare premium hikes

Sep 24, 2009 By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Millions of Medicare patients would be spared monthly premium increases next year under a bill passed by the House Thursday.

The House voted 406 to 18 to eliminate all premium increases for Medicare Part B, which provides coverage for doctor's visits. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Finance Committee is expected to take it up soon, though no hearings were scheduled.

Lawmakers said older Americans shouldn't have to pay higher Medicare Part B premiums because they are not expected to get a cost of living increase from Social Security. Most seniors have their Medicare premiums deducted from their Social Security payments.

Under the law, the vast majority of Medicare recipients already are exempt from Part B premium increases whenever there is no increase in Social Security payments.

Still, without congressional action, several million would face monthly premium increases of $8 to $23. The standard monthly premium is $96.40 this year.

"Our nation's seniors are already experiencing difficult financial times," said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Medicare. "The prospect that some may face a disproportionate increase in their Medicare premiums is inherently unfair."

The bill would not affect scheduled increases in premiums for the Medicare prescription drug program, known as Part D. Average monthly premiums for the drug program will increase slightly, from $28 this year to $30 in 2010.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, in a rare break with fellow Democrats, voted against the measure, saying it would mainly help wealthy Medicare recipients.

"If we take care of everybody, we won't be able to take care of those who need us most," Hoyer said.

About 42 million seniors and people with disabilities are enrolled in Medicare Part B. By law, about three-fourths are exempt from premium increases when there is no increase in Social Security payments.

The Social Security Administration projects no cost-of-living increases for the next two years because the adjustments are pegged to inflation, which has been negative this year, largely because energy prices are below 2008 levels. It will mark the first time without an increase since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975.

Most of the 11 million or so patients who are not exempt from premium increases are low-income people who also qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, pays their Medicare premiums, meaning states would bear some of the costs.

Among the rest who are not exempt, a little more than 2 million are high-income seniors - singles making more than $85,000 a year and couples making more than $170,000. Also, about 1.3 million new enrollees would not be exempt.

Without congressional action, the Medicare trustees have projected that standard Medicare Part B premiums would go from $96.40 a month this year to $104.20 a month in 2010. The Congressional Budget Office projects premiums could go to $119.40.

The House bill would eliminate all Part B premium increases, using $2.8 billion in other Medicare funding.

"All Medicare beneficiaries should be treated fairly and one group should not bear an excessive burden, particularly in these difficult economic times," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also oversees .

Democrats said they had to act on a bill quickly so the administration could set premium rates for next year and inform seniors this fall.

Republican lawmakers complained about the short notice of the vote. The bill was unveiled Wednesday and a vote was scheduled for a day later, with no public hearings.

"We're very upset that it's been done so cavalierly," said Joe Barton, R-Texas, the top Republican on the energy committee.

Barton noted that officials have known for months there would be no increases. Nevertheless, Barton voted for the bill.

"We do need to do something," he said.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Oil-swishing craze: Snake oil or all-purpose remedy?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

House to introduce Medicare drug cost bill

Jan 10, 2007

Democrats in the U.S. House said they plan to introduce legislation that would require the government to negotiate prices for Medicare prescription drugs.

More drug providers enter Medicare market

Oct 02, 2006

Insurers were allowed to begin advertising their plans for Medicare prescription drug coverage Sunday, even as new providers were poised to enter the market.

Medicare drug plan changes affect seniors

Oct 04, 2006

U.S. officials say changes in the Medicare prescription drug plan for next year will include more choices and better coverage especially in the "doughnut hole."

Recommended for you

Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)— Darlene Tucker, an independent insurance broker in Scotts Hill, Tenn., says health insurers in her area aren't selling policies year-round anymore.

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury (Update)

Apr 18, 2014

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City's jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that's the latest in a growing body ...

Autonomy and relationships among 'good life' goals

Apr 18, 2014

Young adults with Down syndrome have a strong desire to be self-sufficient by living independently and having a job, according to a study into the meaning of wellbeing among young people affected by the disorder.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.