Duck Durbin says that it would be “extremely difficult” to round up 60 votes for any changes to Social Security. But in a way, the Social Security benefit is being cut already. For the past two years, there have been no changes to the cost of living adjustment, despite increases in the core costs for seniors, especially in health care. Now, this is expected to remain true for the third straight year, with an increase in Medicare premiums wiping out the meager COLA.
About 45 million people — one in seven in the country — receive both Medicare and Social Security. By law, beneficiaries have their Medicare Part B premiums, which cover doctor visits, deducted from their Social Security payments each month.
When Medicare premiums rise more than Social Security payments, millions of people living on fixed incomes don’t get raises. On the other hand, most don’t get pay cuts, either, because a hold-harmless provision prevents higher Part B premiums from reducing Social Security payments for most people.
David Certner of AARP estimates that as many as three-fourths of beneficiaries will have their entire Social Security increase swallowed by rising Medicare premiums next year.
I’d expect this to continue. Medicare extended its solvency nominally through the Affordable Care Act, but the savings may come by cost shifting onto beneficiaries. So if the premiums increase, it would be likely that they would rise higher than inflation, which is basically how the COLA is calculated. So over time, the Social Security benefit would remain static, while core costs for seniors would increase. And these are people who have seen their pensions turned into 401(k) plans, and who have seen the net worth of those plans plummet during the stock market crash. The other legs of the retirement stool have been kicked out from under them. And now their Social Security benefit is basically losing value.
This is a decision we’re apparently prepared to make as a country, to deny seniors the ability to have a half-decent retirement.