Democrat lawmakers say they are struggling to get Republican lawmakers on board to prevent a 52% spike in Medicare Part B premiums.
Republican attention has been taken up by the Benghazi hearing and the search for a new leader of the House, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said on a press call with reporters Thursday.
Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, have introduced legislation that would freeze Medicare's Part B premium and deductible for 2016, but its prospects are uncertain.
Unless Congress intervenes, Part B premiums will rise for 16.5 million people nationwide in 2016, according to AARP data. This accounts for only 30% of people with Part B coverage as most beneficiaries will be spared, because they paid their premiums through deductions from their Social Security benefit checks.
The “hold harmless” policy shields beneficiaries from premium hikes that outpace cost-of-living increases. That means Social Security check amounts will not decline from one year to the next because of increases in Medicare Part B premiums.
State governments were shocked to learn they will have to pay for that increase on about 9 million people, according to the AARP data. This group is made up of individuals dually eligible for Medicaid or who are enrolled in a Medicare Savings Program.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Republicans can expect increasingly urgent calls from states as the year draws to a close.
Schakowsky's state will be hit with $100 million in new costs as result of the Part B hike. The state is already in a political struggle to put a budget together, she said. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats haven't been able to agree on a spending plan. And some providers are struggling because of delayed Medicaid payments.
In fact, some Republican-led states will hurt the most from the premium hikes. This premium increase would cost Louisiana Medicaid approximately $50 million in the first six months of 2016 alone, state officials estimate.
“A price hike this big would effectively put the state in a position where it has to look at cutting other critical services,” said Ashley Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
One issue that's likely keeping Republicans from engaging in finding a solution to the Medicare budget is that the Democrat-backed Medicare Premium Fairness Act, which would freeze Part B premiums at 2015 rates, has no pay for. It's estimated it could cost as much as $7.5 billion.
Jack Langer, spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) responded to a request for comment regarding the Democrats' call for action. In an email, he said, "I'm not sure how Democrats can blame Republicans for inaction when it's the Obama administration that is responsible for setting and publishing the Part B premium – and we have not heard from them yet."
Lawmakers on Thursday's call however said they didn't feel they needed to come up with a pay for, as Republicans have numerous bills that have provided tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations that also didn't have a pay for.