New Medicare Premiums for 2012: Don’t Believe What You Read in the Newspaper!

October 17, 2011 in Health Insurance, Medicare

Did your father always tell you not to believe what you read in the newspaper? When it comes to Medicare, that’s good advice. Last week I posted about the start of Medicare 2012 Open Enrollment, which is in effect from now until December 7. 

So the obvious question is “How much does Medicare cost?” Well, like I said in August, it’s not simple. And the media confuses the issue even more.  The October 17 Boston Globe, reporting on open enrollment, says:

“Last month, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that, on average, Medicare Advantage premiums will be 4 percent lower in 2012 than in 2011. Individuals, however, won’t know whether their own premiums will rise, fall, or remain the same until later this month.”

I think I know where the reporter was coming from with these two sentences but the wording could have been a lot clearer. Everything you need to know is available NOW. You do NOT have to — and shouldn’t — wait until later this month. For an explanation, read on…

First, the premium costs — left-hand side of the screen — for 2012 Part C Medicare Advantage (and Part D Standalone Prescription Drug Plan) plans are available NOW and have been available since October 1 on (see last week’s post for a “How-To”).  The star ratings — right-hand side of the screen — were added during the week of October 10.

Choosing between these two approaches — Part C with drug coverage vs. Part D drug coverage only – is really the only choice you face between now and December 7.

Second, what we don’t know yet is what the core Part B premium will be.  I assume that is what the Globe reporter meant when she said wait ’til “later this month?”  It doesn’t matter.  You have no control over it and you have no choice but to pay it if you want Part C Medicare Advantage. (I believe in some circumstances you can get Part D without Part B; send me an email if someone is interested in that subject.)

Mark Miller blogging on Reuters wrote during the week of October 10 that the new Part B premium will be $106-something a month, up from $96 and change a month for most Medicare subscribers.  His blog was based on an estimate — probably a good one — of what the government calculation for Part B 2012 premiums will come out to once all the underlying factors are known.  But it doesn’t matter.  The Part B premium is whatever it is. 

Third, if you choose to go the Part D drug coverage only path, you will probably also want a Medicare Supplement plan.

 The 2012 premiums for these Medicare Supplement plans (also known as Medigap or — in Massachusetts — Medex plans) are also known already and it probably makes sense to make any changes now while now you’re looking at everything else.  But there is no urgency because, in Massachusetts at least, enrollment is continuous.  You can make changes in Medigap plan providers any month during the year to be effective the first of the following month.  This may be true in other states as well. You can also switch between the types of Medigap plans — so called “core” and “supplement 1″ in Massachusetts; more choices in other states – on a continuous basis through the year.

And to be fair to the Globe, I have seen similar and different errors in many other newspapers in the run up to open enrollment.  And I’ve made about a half dozen mistakes in the six posts I’ve put up on this website concerning Medicare. Even the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put out a press release two weeks ago saying there was a new discount for “brand-new” drugs (the discount is for “brand-name” drugs and is not new).   It’s just not simple.

2 responses to New Medicare Premiums for 2012: Don’t Believe What You Read in the Newspaper!

  1. Before everyone goes ballistic about the “poor seniors’” Part B premium going up 10% in 2012 from $96.xx to $106.xx or whatever — and ranting and raving about insurance companies — remember that the Medicare Part B premium is set by statute and the other Medicare premiums are all approved by the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services. Also remember that the Part B premium has been frozen at $96.xx for three years.

    Naturally, it’s not that simple but that’s the basic reason for the big jump. And also remember that that’s Reuters’ estimate; I am guessing the government might come up with some other number once they run the numbers because they don’t want everyone going ballistic. Or if you’re a real cynic like I am, maybe the politicians will decide to take the heat for a big increase this year so that they don’t have to post a big increase this time next year right before the 2012 election.

  2. Congress will refuse any major changes in Medi-Care for political reasons. Of greater relevance is the absence of means to pay for Medi-Care as it now exists, and here the logic appears to be fatally flawed.

    The Ryan-Romney premise that the wealthy 2-3% of the population including corporations will (out the of kindness of their hearts?) engage in job creation. If the wealthy were going to create jobs, wouldn’t they already have done so? They already have most of the expendable cash, and are choosing to sit on it rather than spend it.

    How does Romney’s plan to allow them to keep even more cash provide any solution? The real crisis is the irrevocable transfer of ever greater wealth to the wealthy under the Bush tax cuts. The only solution is real tax reform, and the only alternative is eventual repudiation of burgeoning debt.

    My only consolation, is that Ryan-Romney are revealing to intelligent Americans what a disingenuous policy they expound, and that the remainder of the population, including most thoughtful and deserving Americans, will be encouraged to vote according to their consciences.

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