Be aware of Medicare changes, higher deductibles, coinsurance amounts for 2018, warns benefit expert

Published Dec 31, 2017 at 9:00am

Open Enrollment for 2018 has ended.

The annual fall Open Enrollment Period started on Oct. 15 ended on Dec. 7.

However, as I noted in last month’s column, some special enrollment periods were created for those affected as a result of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria as well as the wild fires in California.

Medicare Premiums for 2018. Last month I noted that we did not yet know what the Medicare premiums would be for 2018. Shortly after that article was submitted for publication, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the new Medicare premiums:

Medicare Part A hospital coverage. Since most beneficiaries do not pay for Part A coverage, you will not see any premium changes. But, what you will see are higher deductibles and coinsurance amounts.

For 2018, the hospital deductible is up to $1,340 for an increase of $24.

Coinsurance amounts for hospital stays beyond 61 days and for skilled nursing facility stays have increased slightly by amounts of $12 or less.

Annual Medicare Part B deductible. For 2018, the annual Part B deductibles, which represents your out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits and other outpatient services, remains at $183.  

Medicare Part B monthly premium. The monthly Part B premium remains at $134, the same as for 2017. However, because of a law known as the hold-harmless provision a majority of participants had continued to pay only $104.90 per month.

This rule prevents Medicare premium increases when the Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) are insufficient to cover such increases.

Because of this rule, CMS estimates that even with the increased COLA for this year about 25 percent of Part B participants will still pay less than full cost of $134 a month for 2018.  

Over the past several years, primarily because of very low rates of inflation, Social Security recipients have not received a COLA.

With the 2018 COLA, the average retired worker’s benefit will rise by $27 a month to $1,404. However, $20 of that $27 will be eaten up by the increase in the Medicare Part B premium.  

Premium increases for higher income beneficiaries. For high-income beneficiaries the increases that are tacked on to Part B premiums are a different story.

The reason for this is because the hold-harmless provision does not apply to those with incomes above $85,000 for individuals and $170,000 for those filing jointly.

They are also facing hikes for 2018 because of a 2015 Congressional budget deal, which compressed tax brackets forcing more people to pay higher surcharges. As an example, for those with incomes between $85,000 to $107,000 for an individual or $170,000 to $214,000 for joint filers will see their Medicare premiums increase by $53.50 to $187.50 per month.

New Medicare cards are coming in April. As we stated in several previous columns, new Medicare cards are coming. These new cards are designed to decrease beneficiary vulnerability to identity theft by removing Social Security numbers (SSN) from the cards. The new cards will use a new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier that will be 11 characters in length and contain both letters and numbers.

The example given of a new Identifier by CMS on a sample card is 1EG4-TE5-MK72. Remember to protect your new number as you have your Social Security number in the past. Once you have your new card CMS recommends that you destroy your old card. The gender and signature lines have also been removed on these newly designed cards.

New cards will begin to be mailed out in April and will continue through April 2019. So, your neighbors may receive their new cards in May but your card might not arrive until early in 2019. The Railroad Retirement Board will also issue new cards to beneficiaries. 

Prior to April 1, you need to ensure that your mailing address is up-to-date. If you have any concerns that Social Security may not have your correct mailing address, contact them by call 1-800-772-1213 or by going to www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Also, remember that Medicare will never request personal or private information from you when mailing out these new cards. So, be wary of anyone who tries to contact you, either by phone or mail, about your new card.

Help is always available in Oneida County to answer all your insurance questions. The Oneida County Office for the Aging/Continuing Care/NY Connects Health Insurance Information, Counseling and Assistance program (HIICAP) offices can answer all your Medicare, Part D and long term care insurance questions. They provide their services at no cost to Medicare beneficiaries. HIICAP offices are found at the following locations:

Ava Dorfman Senior Citizens Civic Center, 305 E. Locust St., with hours of operation on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Again, while consumers are seen on a “first come, first served” basis you may call the Dorfman Center at 315-337-1648 to see if there are long wait times.

North Utica Senior Citizens Community Center, 50 Riverside Drive, Utica, with hours of operation on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Consumers are counseled on a “first come, first served” basis. However, if you want to call ahead to see how busy the office is you may call the center’s HIICAP program at 315-724-8680.

HIICAP services are provided by Oneida County Office for Aging and Continuing Care/NY Connects. Anyone with questions about HIICAP, including issues with your Medicare Advantage Plan, should call the program directly at 315-798-5456 and press 4 in the choice list. It will direct you to someone who can assist you.

Dr. William Lane is the owner of William Lane Associates, a gerontological firm which located in Homer, NY. He writes a monthly column on HIICAP related issues for the OFA. Dr. Lane does not sell insurance, work for any insurance company or recommend any insurance products.