Older Americans are facing an economic catch-22 next year. Social Security checks are getting bigger, but Medicare costs are also rising.
Monthly Medicare Part B premiums will rise a whopping $21.60 in 2022 — the biggest year-over-year dollar increase in the federal program’s history.
We have suggestions for how to soften the blow.
Medicare Costs Are Rising in 2022
The new Part B premium will cost beneficiaries $170.10 a month in 2022, up from $148.50 in 2021. The increase is double what experts were anticipating just last month.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans could be impacted by the Medicare increase. In 2020, the nation’s largest federal health care program covered 61.2 million people ages 65 and older along with some younger people with long-term disabilities — 18.5% of the U.S. population.
Medicare Part B is a foundational part of the federal insurance program, covering doctor visits, outpatient surgeries, medical equipment and more. It charges beneficiaries a monthly premium for coverage, which have been steadily rising since 2000. (Back then, it was just $46 a month.)
But this year’s hike is the biggest one-year increase in Medicare’s 56-year history. For comparison, Part B premiums increased by just $3.90 last year.
Medicare recipients are getting squeezed in other ways.
The Part B deductible — the cost enrollees pay out-of-pocket each year before Medicare starts paying its share — is also increasing by $30 next year.
The Part A deductible will be higher, too. Medicare Part A primarily covers hospital stays and skilled nursing facilities.
2022 Medicare Costs at a Glance
Medicare Part B premium
$170.10 per month
$148.50 in 2021
$21.60 per month
Medicare Part B deductible
$233 per year
$203 in 2021
$30 per year
Medicare Part A deductible
$1,556 per year
$1,484 in 2021
$72 per year
Why Are Medicare Costs Going Up in 2022?
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) offered a few reasons for the historically high Part B increase in a Nov. 12 press release.
Rising health care prices and an increased use of the Medicare system, some of which is attributed to COVID-19 care.
Medicare Part B premiums only increased $3 from 2020 to 2021 after Congress decided to soften the blow of price hikes on beneficiaries during the pandemic. Congress then directed CMS to pay back the reduced premium over time — and that payback catch-up starts in 2022.
There’s a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug on the market called Aduhelm and CMS is still deciding if Medicare will cover it. The complex infusion treatment is extremely expensive, with an estimated price tag of $56,000 a year. It’s unclear if Aduhelm will get a green light from Medicare, but CMS says it still “must plan for the possibility of coverage for this high cost Alzheimer’s drug” because it could lead to significantly higher expenditures for the Medicare program.
About half of the 2022 Part B premium increase is due to contingency planning for Aduhelm coverage, according to CBS News.
“The increase in the Part B premium for 2022 is continued evidence that rising drug costs threaten the affordability and sustainability of the Medicare program,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a press release.
High-Income Earners Will Pay Even More for Medicare Next Year
High-income earners will shoulder additional Medicare costs in 2022 thanks to the income-related monthly adjustment amount.
Simply put, Part B and Part D premiums are tied to a beneficiary’s income. People with higher incomes pay more than the standard Medicare premiums.
According to CMS, only about 7% of Medicare enrollees pay higher Part B premiums due to income and 8% pay higher Part D premiums.
The graduated surcharges for high-income earners kick in for single filers who earn more than $91,000 and couples who earn more than $182,000.
The Part B income-related monthly adjusted premium is $238.10 in 2022, an increase of $30.20 from 2021.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest older Americans — singles with $500,000 of income or more and couples with $750,000 of income or more — will face total Part B premiums of $578.30 a month per person, a $73.40 increase over 2021.
To see a full breakdown of income-related monthly adjustment amounts for 2022, click here.
Medicare Costs Will Likely Eat Up Your Social Security Increase
In October, Social Security recipients got some good news.
The annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is increasing 5.9% in 2022 — the biggest COLA in nearly 40 years.
Here’s what that looks like for the average recipient:
Retired workers will get an extra $92 a month on average, bringing the average monthly benefit to $1,657.
Disabled workers will get an extra $76 a month on average, bringing the average monthly benefit to $1,358.
The maximum Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit will increase by $47 a month, bringing the maximum monthly benefit to $841.
Social Security cost-of-living increases are tied to inflation, and if you haven’t heard, inflation is soaring.
The bumped-up benefit is meant to offset the rising cost for everyday essentials like food, housing and utilities.
Yet Social Security COLAs have historically lagged behind inflation. This year is no different.
The Consumer Price Index, a government measure for the change in prices over time, hit 6.2% in October — so the 5.9% COLA still falls short.
Factor in $21.60 a month for higher Part B premiums and that extra money in your Social Security check means even less, said Mary Johnson, a Medicare policy analyst with The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan senior group.
“The Medicare Part B premium is automatically deducted from Social Security benefits. So once increased premiums are deducted, the net Social Security benefit won’t be 5.9% higher,” Johnson said.
Those with modest Social Security benefits will see most, if not all, of their pay raise eaten up by rising Medicare and living costs, Johnson said.
“The jump in the Medicare Part B premium for 2022 spells trouble ahead for many beneficiaries wondering where the money will come from to pay all the bills,” Johnson told The Penny Hoarder. “Those with the lowest benefits won’t see much left over.”
The Social Security Administration usually sends out mailed notices of new benefit amounts in early December — but you can see it now by going online and checking your My Social Security account.
3 Ways to Lower Your Medicare Costs in 2022
None of this news about Medicare costs bodes well for seniors on fixed incomes.
But you can take steps to potentially lower your Medicare costs next year.
Switch to a Cheaper Plan During Open Enrollment
Medicare open enrollment is going on now through Dec. 7. It’s your annual opportunity to review your current coverage and explore other plans that may work better — and cost less.
As a quick reminder, you can get your Medicare coverage in one of two ways:
Original Medicare: Includes Part A and Part B. Administered by the federal government. Most enrollees also purchase a standalone Part D drug plan administered by a private insurer. Some people also purchase private supplement insurance called Medigap.
Medicare Advantage: An all-in-one health care plan administered by a private insurer. It bundles Part A, Part B and (usually) Part D benefits.
Medicare offers an online plan comparison tool where you can shop for different Part D drug plans, Medicare Advantage plans and Medigap supplement plans.
You’ll enter your zip code and any financial help you might be receiving — such as Medicaid — and the tool will show you all the available plans in your area.
If you’re in the market for a new Part D plan, you can also enter your prescription drug information and select up to five preferred pharmacies for customized estimates on your out-of-pocket drug costs.
Make sure to accurately enter all the medications you take into the Medicare.gov tool, including the dosages, quantity and frequency. Leaving out these details can result in incorrect cost estimates.
You can review up to three different Part D or Medicare Advantage plans side-by-side and filter results by star ratings and available benefits.
The private insurance companies that run these plans change coverage and costs every year. They might drop coverage for certain prescription drugs or change their pricing structure for different services.
As a result, you might be paying significantly more for health care just by sticking with your current coverage.
Make sure to carefully review details on any plan before signing up.
If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you still have to pay your Part B premiums. Some Advantage plans advertise to pay a portion of the Part B premium in the form of a “giveback.”
That might sound enticing — especially with Part B premiums on the rise.
Tread carefully, though. Giveback benefits aren’t available in all areas. Even when they are, you’ll be restricted to a local network of doctors, and you’ll need to consider other out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles. Some Medicare Advantage plans offering a Part B reduction may not include prescription drug coverage.
You can find Medicare Advantage plans with a giveback benefit by using the Medicare plan finder tool, and checking the details page for each plan. However, finding the exact amount of the reduction may be difficult. You’ll likely need to read through plan documents or call the plan provider.
See If You Qualify for a Medicare Savings Program
Older Americans with low incomes can qualify for financial assistance from Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs).
These programs help millions of people pay Medicare premiums and may also cover your deductibles, coinsurance and copayments if you meet eligibility requirements in your state.
Only about half of Medicare beneficiaries eligible for MSP are currently enrolled in one, according to CMS. That makes sense — signing up for these programs can be confusing and difficult.
Learn more about MSPs, including income limits and eligibility requirements, by visiting this page on Medicare.gov.
Medicare also offers a prescription assistance program called Extra Help for beneficiaries with limited incomes and resources.
If you qualify and enroll in Extra Help, you’re guaranteed not to pay more than $3.95 for each generic drug or $9.85 for each brand-name covered drug.
To see if you qualify for Extra Help and start an application, click here.
Talk to a Trained Nonprofit Volunteer
It’s time-consuming to compare different Medicare plans and pick one that works for you. But with open enrollment closing Dec. 7, time is of the essence.
Thankfully, there’s a nonprofit organization that can help.
It’s called the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), though some states give it a different name (such as SHINE in Florida or SHIBA in Idaho).
Each SHIP is made up of a network of trained volunteers who provide 1-on-1 counseling about Medicare benefits.
The program isn’t connected to insurance companies or health plans, so the advice you receive is free and unbiased. No one will try to sell you something or bombard you with annoying calls.
Plus, any Medicare beneficiary can utilize the program because there aren’t any income limits or restrictions.
To get started, call your state’s SHIP information line (click “SHIP locator” on the organization’s home page for a list of each state’s phone number).
You’ll get connected to a SHIP volunteer who can help you compare plans, answer your questions and even help you enroll in a Medicare Savings Program if you qualify.
Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.