Saturday, September 04, 2004

Friday Slime: Medicare Premiums Jump a Record 17%

In a move that reeks of cynicism and Fuck You arrogance, the Bush Administration on the Friday afternoon of the Labor Day weekend released the news that due to their (deliberate) mismanagement of Medicare, not only is the deductible going up by 10% but premiums are going to be raised next year by a whopping 17%, marking an overall 30% hike in seniors' medical costs in addition to the hidden hike in the cost of prescription drugs that the Bush Administration rammed through Congress last year to make its pharmaceutical-industry contributors happy.

Bush administration announces the increase for 41.8 million disabled and elderly beneficiaries as the capital empties for the holiday weekend.

By Johanna Neuman, LA Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In the largest increase in the history of Medicare, insurance premiums paid by elderly and disabled patients for routine care will rise 17% next year, the Bush administration said Friday.

The premium increases announced late in the afternoon as the capital emptied for the three-day Labor Day weekend and Republicans wrapped up a jubilant week at their convention in New York — would affect nearly all of the 41.8 million beneficiaries of Medicare.

The boost from $66.60 to $78.20 a month is the largest increase in the program's 40-year history. The premiums are for Medicare Part B, which provides Medicare patients with coverage for physician services, outpatient hospital care, certain home health services and durable medical equipment.

In announcing the $11.60-a-month increase, the government said the higher premiums reflected general growth in healthcare costs, higher payments to doctors and Medicare modernization.

"The new premiums reflect an enhanced Medicare that is providing seniors and people with disabilities with strengthened access to physician services and new preventive benefits," said Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Advocates for elderly and disabled beneficiaries said the extra costs would burden many of those who rely on the program.

"This is going to make it even harder for a lot of older Americans to make ends meet," said Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center. "Already there are a lot of older people who are teetering on the edge of poverty."

Critics pounced on both the timing and content of the administration's announcement, which seemed designed to garner as little publicity as possible.

"This is a cynical attempt to bury bad news by leaking it out when you hope no one is watching," Rep. Pete Stark (D-Hayward) told Associated Press. "This administration has had four years to improve Medicare and instead have made it worse. Today's news reflects the reality, not rhetoric, of this administration's bad record on Medicare."

The announcement became an instant campaign issue, with a spokesman for Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential challenger, saying that the jump in premiums came after the administration increased deductibles by 10%.

"After doing nothing about the record increases in the cost of healthcare over the last four years, George Bush is presiding over a Medicare system that is socking seniors with the largest premium hike in the program's 40-year history," said spokesman Phil Singer. "When it comes to helping seniors, George Bush has proven that he's taking us in the wrong direction by giving billions to the drug industry while keeping seniors from accessing cheaper prescription drugs."

(emphasis added by me)