Medicare premiums to rise 17 percent

Medicare premiums for doctor visits will rise 17 percent next year, the Bush administration said Friday. The $11.60-a-month increase is the largest in the program's 40-year-history.

Monthly payments for Part B of the government health care program for older and disabled Americans - doctor visits and most other non-hospital expenses - will jump to $78.20 from $66.60.

The premiums are updated annually under a formula set by law. The federal government picks up about 75 percent of the cost of Part B benefits and beneficiaries pay the rest.

Darrell Butler, planning and information systems manager with Salt Lake County Aging Services, said the increase will be an enormous burden on low-income seniors already struggling with the rising costs of health care. Utah has 219,973 Medicare beneficiaries, reports Salt Lake Tribune.

Under the federal program, beneficiaries may be on a pure Medicare policy, which covers about 80 percent of health services.

Alternatively, they may purchase a Medicare health maintenance organization plan or supplemental policy to cover additional expenses.

In California, about 25 percent of the state's 4.4 million Medicare beneficiaries belong to a Medicare managed-care plan, typically referred to as a Medicare HMO.

The federal government is encouraging the growth of these partly privatized managed-care plans. Earlier this year, it increased the funding directed to these private programs. As a result, some seniors saw modest decreases in monthly premiums, unusual in these times of skyrocketing rates, informs San Francisco Chronicle.

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