After two years without an inflation adjustment, the Social Security Administration is expected to announce a 2012 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of more than 3 percent next week. That would be a sizable raise in this economy, and very welcome news to seniors hit hard by rising costs, slumping home equity and very low returns on fixed-income investments.
But the good COLA news will come with a nasty kicker. Many seniors will see a substantial part of the COLA consumed by a higher premium for Medicare Part B (doctor visits and outpatient services), which usually is deducted from Social Security payments. The situation sheds light on the complex interaction of Social Security COLAs and Medicare premiums — and it underscores the critical importance of the Super Committee deficit deliberations on possible cuts to future COLAs.
NEW YORK (Reuters) – If you’re a senior on Medicare – or if you help out aging parents with their money matters – it’s time to get ready to shop. The annual enrollment period for Medicare prescription drug and Advantage managed care plans is about to begin, and it’s one of the best opportunities of the year for seniors to save money.
The new healthcare reform law is reshaping certain parts of the Medicare marketplace, for the most part in ways that benefit seniors. Although the law gradually reduced subsidies to Medicare Advantage – a change that critics derided as “slashing” Medicare – the Advantage and prescription drug markets are doing just fine. The number of plan offerings for 2012 are stable and average prices are steady or falling slightly.
If you’re a senior on Medicare – or if you help out aging parents with their money matters – it’s time to get ready to shop. The annual enrollment period for Medicare prescription drug and Advantage managed care plans is about to begin, and it’s one of the best opportunities of the year for seniors to save money.
The new healthcare reform law is reshaping certain parts of the Medicare marketplace, for the most part in ways that benefit seniors. Although the law gradually reduced subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a change that critics derided as “slashing” Medicare– the Advantage and prescription drug markets are doing just fine. The number of plan offerings for 2012 are stable and average prices are steady or falling slightly.
Gov. Rick Perry wants to have a conversation about means-testing entitlements. This is a softer, gentler version of the governor’s earlier assertions that Social Security is an un-Constitutional Ponzi scheme.
And Perry is hardly the only conservative floating the idea that wealthy seniors should get less Social Security — or none at all.
Ideas for “means testing” these critical retirement programs are front and center as deficit reduction talks move back into high gear in Washington. Many Republicans are arguing that Social Security benefits should be cut for wealthy Americans — an idea also backed by the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles deficit report. Meanwhile, President Obama proposed higher Medicare premiums for high-income seniors this week as part of the deficit plan he submitted to the Congressional Super Committee.
I don’t buy it. Soaring healthcare spending is a critical problem, but not only because our population is aging. And Social Security is affordable as a percent of GDP — it’s equal to 4.7 percent of GDP this year, and will slowly rise to 5.3 percent by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Congressional Super Committee hasn’t even started cutting Social Security, but advocates are already expressing concern on a different front: the payroll tax cut extension proposed last night by President Obama as part of his jobs plan. Those payroll taxes fund the Social Security program.
The President asked for a $175 billion one-year extension and expansion of the employee payroll tax holiday now in place, halving the tax rate to 3.1 percent in 2012. He also proposed halving employer payroll taxes to 3.1 percent for the first $5 million of payrolls in 2012. The president also wants a complete payroll tax holiday that would apply when companies grew their payrolls by up to $50 million in a year by hiring new workers or raising the salaries of existing workers.
Last week’s dismal unemployment report contained what looks like a glimmer of hope for older workers. The August jobless rate for workers over 55 was 6.6 percent – far below the 9.1 percent national average. The seasonally-adjusted jobless rate for older workers was down from 7 percent as recently as June, and it stands considerably below the 7.3 percent rate in August 2010.
But the August jobless numbers masks broader weakness in the job market for older Americans, because it measures only workers actively seeking employment. Many older workers have given up looking; only 1 percent of unemployed older workers are optimistic about finding jobs in the near future, while 30 percent say they are very pessimistic, according to recent research by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work.
Why has Congress raised the Social Security full retirement age but not the early age? Why don’t we fix Social Security’s finances by cutting administrative overhead? Why do Social Security numbers have nine numbers and what do the numbers mean? Who got the first Social Security card?
I get a constant stream of questions about Social Security — no surprise, since benefits are the most important source of income for most retirees. In fact, new data from the Social Security Administration shows benefits accounted for 38 percent of total income for Americans over age 65 and older in 2009 — up from 30 percent in 1962.
“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words,” wrote George Orwell in 1984. And so it is with a mangled word that is central to the 2012 presidential race and the work of the Congressional deficit-cutting Super Committee: entitlement.
In the context of federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare, the word entitlement refers to a benefit you are granted by law. You are entitled to the benefit not because it is welfare, but because it is a program you have paid into over time. You can count on it because it is insurance that isn’t subject to the judgment of a case worker or the spending priorities of budgetmakers.