HELP LINE: The 2018 Medicare costs are now available

ONE OF THE more annoying things about Medicare (Well, OK, I know, but …) is that we tend to get dribs and drabs of information in often disconnected ways, but are always instructed to read everything very carefully

Now, do I think that’s a good idea? Of course.

Do most of us ever do it?

I sincerely doubt it, until something goes wrong and we have to research the problem and we can’t make any sense out of all that Medicare stuff, because it’s been so long since we tried to make any sense out of it that we can’t make any sense out of it.

However, that’s not the problem I’m trying to solve.

The problem I’m trying to solve today is that most of us never receive or see — in one place, at one time — all of the Medicare costs for a new year.

So, I’m going to give you those for 2018 (hold your applause).

What? You say you already found all of those?

Well, feel free to go directly to all the happy news of the day.

No? I thought not.

Here we go:

• Part A (think “hospital”): There is no monthly premium for Part A, assuming you have 10 or more years of work history.

If you have 7.5 to 10 years of work history, the premium is $232 per month, which goes up to $422 per month if you have fewer than 7.5 years of work history.

The hospital deductible is $1,340 per benefit period.

What is a “benefit period?”

A benefit period begins on the day a Medicare beneficiary begins receiving inpatient hospital care.

It ends when that beneficiary has not received hospital or skilled nursing facility care for 60 days in a row.

Read that again.

So, if you went back into the hospital on the 61st day … right.

The hospital coinsurance (this is different from the deductible) is $0 for days 1 through 60 (after you paid the deductible).

For days 61 through 90, the coinsurance is $335 per day, for each benefit period and that jumps to $670 per day for days 91 through 150 (I’m not even going to get into “nonrenewable lifetime reserve days”).

Skilled nursing facility coinsurance is $0 per day for days 1 through 20, for each benefit period, after a minimum three-day inpatient hospital stay (think, three nights).

That increases to $167.50 per day for days 21 through 100 for each benefit period.

• Part B (think “doctor”): The base premium for Part B in 2018 is $134 per month.

That’s the same as it was in 2017, so if you paid $134 per month last year, it will be the same this year.

If you paid less than $134, it will likely go up to $134 (sorry).

• Part B premium and Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA): The 2018 COLA was 2 percent.

Believe it or not, that’s higher than in past years.

So, if you paid less than $134 per month for Part B in 2017, part (or all) of that COLA went toward paying the increase to $134, so you probably see no increase in your Social Security amount.

This is a little exotic, but: There is a thing called the “hold harmless provision.”

Basically, it says that your Social Security benefit cannot decrease from year to year because of an increase in Part B, so if your whopping 2 percent Social Security COLA wasn’t enough to make up the difference to $134, Medicare eats it.

Aren’t you glad you asked?

• Part D (think “prescription drugs”): The maximum deductible is $405. (Remember, this is different from the “donut hole,” aka “gap”.)

The average Part D premium is $35.02 per month, but that’s a national figure that is really only marginally relevant.

When you selected your Part D plan for 2018, you (hopefully) looked at the plan’s formulary as well as the premium, so your costs could be higher or lower.

And remember: You can shop Part D plans every year between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.

That’s it.

What did I leave out?

Right. Medicare supplement plans (aka, “Medigaps” or “MedSupps”).

Why? Well, because those are private supplement plans, sold by private insurance companies and those rates aren’t set by Medicare.

What else isn’t here?

Right, again. Medicare Advantage Plans (aka, “Part C”).

Why? Well, because they aren’t available to most of us because we live where we live and their rates aren’t set by Medicare.

If you have one, you can go directly to the plan for info.

That’s it.

Yes, it is complicated.

Anything to do with any kind of health insurance is complicated.

Why? Well, I’ll spare you that rant and leave you to your own imagination, but I’ll tell you this:

We need to understand this stuff, to the best of our abilities, because it directly affects our lives.

If you get lost in it, call any of the numbers at the end of this column, and decent people will help you understand it for free.

And that’s as good as it’s going to get in 2018; hope, however, springs eternal.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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