U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15) today voted for the bipartisan Medicare Premium Fairness Act - H.R. 3631, which will freeze Medicare Part B premiums for seniors who are currently scheduled for an increase in those premiums next year.

Medicare beneficiaries who voluntarily elect Part B coverage, which covers physician services and outpatient care, are charged a monthly premium. The premiums are set each year - typically rising or falling with Part B program costs. As a result of rising costs, Medicare Part B premiums are expected to increase in 2010. Under current law, most seniors have their Medicare Part B premium's automatically deducted from their monthly Social Security benefit checks. However, due to a decrease in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), current projections indicate that the Social Security Administration will not implement a COLA for 2010.

If Medicare Part B Premiums are scheduled to increase in a year in which there is no Social Security COLA, a “hold harmless” provision shelters three-quarters of beneficiaries from being impacted by the premium increase. In other words, if the increase in the Part B premium would cause a beneficiary's Social Security check to be less than it was the year before, the premium is reduced to ensure that the amount of the individual's Social Security check does not decline. These individuals would continue to pay the same Part B premiums and receive the same Social Security benefits that they did the year before.

Without this legislation, the remaining one-quarter of Medicare beneficiaries who are not protected by the hold harmless would shoulder a large Part B premium increase. This would impact new enrollees in the Medicare program, low-income seniors who receive benefits from both Medicare and Medicaid; seniors whose premiums are already income adjusted to pay a higher premium. The Medicare Premium Fairness Act extends the “hold harmless” protection to these beneficiaries so no senior will be impacted by a premium increase.

“It is unfair for one-quarter of seniors to shoulder a premium increase in a year when everyone's pocketbooks are tight and Social Security benefits are not projected to increase,” Congressman Dent said. “I believe Congress has the obligation to protect the promised benefits of seniors during these difficult times.”