Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Anxiety over Medicare Rates

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Anxiety over Medicare Rates

Article excerpt

News that Medicare costs are rising for a third of recipients, coupled with no cost of living increase in Social Security, has sparked an outpouring of questions from North Jersey seniors as they wade through the confusing process of enrolling for the new year, say officials who work with the elderly.

"The phones have been ringing off the hook, and people have been walking in because they heard something about this and they want to know if it affects them," said Mary Kuzinski, executive director of the Passaic County Department of Senior Services, which offers on- site Medicare insurance assistance. "There's so much confusion about it."

Monthly Medicare Part B premiums -- which cover routine doctor visits and other outpatient care -- would rise about 15 percent for wealthier seniors and new enrollees under a plan approved by the House this week.

At the same time, seniors have been told not to expect any more in their Social Security checks next year.

The news could have been worse. Originally, those premiums were expected to rise by 50 percent.

The past few weeks of guessing about the increased cost added to the stress that seniors endure each fall when they must review their insurance options for the coming year.

Count Margaret Clay, an Englewood resident, among those uneasy about the cost.

"I'm concerned," said Clay, who will turn 65 and enroll in Medicare in December. "It's expensive, and it's unexpected."

Clay went to a Medicare information meeting at the Leonia Public Library last week to get a better understanding of her enrollment options. She hopes the higher premiums won't affect her, but it's not clear from what she's read so far.

"They certainly don't make this easy for the average person to understand," she said.

From Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year, people over 65 have the opportunity to review the Medicare policies offered in their region.

The payroll contributions made over a person's working life guarantee all seniors' hospitalization coverage -- what's known as Part A Medicare -- at no monthly charge. But all Medicare enrollees must pay a monthly premium for Part B coverage, which pays 80 percent of the cost of care received as an outpatient.

Earlier this fall, government officials had been warning that the $105 base rate for those Part B premiums could rise to as high as $159 for those in the affected categories.

An agreement reached this week in the House calls for the base premium to increase to $120 for people in those categories.

In addition, new enrollees and wealthy seniors -- individuals who earn more than $85,000 a year and couples who earn $170,000 -- will have to pay a monthly premium surcharge of between $3 and $12, depending on their incomes, for the next five years.

Seniors, whose health needs can change dramatically from year to year, should study the plan options carefully to see how their individual needs might affect their overall costs: What medications do they take? …

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