Medicare premiums are going up 52 percent next year. But only for 3 out of 10 people. The other 7 beneficiaries have no increase at all.
Before you panic, here's the background. The experts have told us that we should wait as long as we can before signing up to take our Social Security benefits, even to age 70 if we can last that long.
The idea is that the longer you wait, the bigger your monthly payment. You can start Social Security as early as age 62, but you take about a 25 percent pay cut compared to what you'd get at full retirement age, which for most of us is 66. Or you can hold off past your regular retirement age and collect a bonus. Every year you wait, up until age 70, you get almost 8 percent more in your check.
Of course, you give up the income in the meantime; but still, an 8 percent raise every year. Where else can you get that?
And then Social Security pulls a fast one on you.
First of all, the government says there will be no increase in Social Security benefits next year. Benefits are tied to inflation; and the government claims there has been no inflation for 2015, so the increase for 2016 is zero.
But medical costs have gone up, and Medicare needs more money. So, as reported in USA Today, as well as a follow-up article, here's what happens next year. Everybody who's already receiving Social Security benefits -- who has Medicare payments deducted directly from Social Security -- will be "held harmless" from an increase, because Social Security is not going up.
But everyone else on Medicare will face premiums that will be raised high enough to make up the difference. Those are the people who will pay the 52 percent increase. That includes people on Medicare who have not yet signed up for Social Security, as well as anyone who first enrolls in Medicare next year. Altogether, about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will pay the higher amount.
But if you've taken the so-called expert advice to delay Social Security, then your Medicare premium will jump from $104.90 to $159.30 -- for the 52 percent increase.
There are a few ways to get around the increase, as outlined in this Kiplinger report. One way is to quick, sign up for Social Security before the end of October. But before you do, make sure you know what you're giving up, which is all those future 8 percent annual increases.
So of course I'm one of the 30 percent. Am a sucker for not signing up for Social Security sooner? Well, here's what I'm trying to remember. The reason for the increase is because there's a mandate that premiums cover 25 percent of the actual cost of Medicare. Think about it. Those of us on Medicare only pay a quarter of the actual cost of our care.
Even at $159 a month, we're still only paying a little more than a quarter of the cost of what the medical insurance should really be. If you'll still be paying $104.90, you're getting an even better bargain, paying less than 25 percent of the actual cost.
So I can't complain (even though it sounds like I am). But as mystery writer Michael Connelly says, "Can't complain, because nobody listens."
Here's a chart of 2016 premiums, courtesy of Medicare.gov, Boston College and USA Today: