Senate Dems pushing to stop Medicare premium hikes

A quartet of senior Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill for a lame-duck session vote to cut off planned Medicare rate increases scheduled to hit 12 million senior and disabled Americans.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) unveiled the Medicare Fairness Act, which would extend a current “hold harmless” provision to cover Medicare recipients who would otherwise see rate hikes.

“We have a responsibility to protect all Medicare beneficiaries from unfair premium increases,” Kerry said. “Every penny counts right now, and 12 million seniors and individuals with disabilities are depending on us to restore fairness to the Medicare system.”

“Without a Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment increase, many of our country’s senior citizens will not be able afford an increase in their monthly Medicare Part B premiums,” said Dodd.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced 2011 Medicare rates this month, under which most beneficiaries will pay the same $96.40 premium rate — unchanged since 2008. However, a little under one-third of beneficiaries will see their rates skyrocket by at least $225.

A hold-harmless provision in federal law currently protects most Medicare patients during years when Social Security benefits do not receive cost-of-living increases. However, new enrollees, low-income enrollees and seniors who do not receive Social Security are not covered by the provision, and could see their premiums disproportionately increased.

The Democratic bill would extend the current hold harmless policy equally to all Medicare enrollees.

Similar legislation passed the House by a vote of 406 to 18 in 2009, but the Democratic senators say the GOP has blocked it in the Senate.