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Yorkers prepare for possible Medicare premium increases


It was the only meal John Rossell had that day back in August, when he went into the Red Lion Senior Center looking for guidance.

At 65, the Yorker had an uncertain future. Disabled after a car crash in 2003, he couldn't write and was in chronic back pain, he said.

The medical bills piled up.

When Rossell's mother became ill, he cared for her until she passed away, he said.

The medical bills kept coming.

A caseworker at the senior center helped him secure Medicare and Social Security benefits, and now he's among the many York County seniors living on tight budgets each month.

And with many of them also in enrolled in Medicare, things could soon get tighter.

Medicare changes: Starting in 2016, monthly payments to Medicare's medical insurance program, commonly known as Part B, are expected to increase from $104.90 to $159.30 for about 30 percent of those enrolled, according to federal officials.

The higher payments are set to help keep Medicare from running out of funds, according to a Board of Trustees for Medicare report released earlier this year.

The report predicted that — without congressional action — premiums would increase for some beneficiaries by more than 50 percent in 2016. Compounding the problem is the government's announcement Thursday that Social Security recipients will not see a cost-of-living increase in benefits next year.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is sponsoring legislation to prevent a Medicare premium increase, he said in a recent conference call with reporters.

"Allowing to let these premiums go into effect would put a new financial strain for seniors who are already struggling to make ends meet," Casey said. "Pennsylvania has among the highest percentages of folks over the age of 65. ... We have an obligation to stand up for them."

Casey said about 70 percent of those enrolled would not be affected by the fee hikes.

Those affected would be first-time enrollees and seniors who do not have their premiums taken from their Social Security benefits.

His office could not provide an estimated number of seniors who would be affected in York County.

Casey is one of 10 Democratic senators sponsoring the legislation, which would keep current payments where they are. It's not clear how much extra funding would be needed to keep costs from going up.

"We shouldn't let uncertainty hang over these beneficiaries," he said.

The office of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he was reviewing the measure but was unable to weigh in on the proposal.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, was unable to comment on the plan, said spokesman Bob Reilly.

Local help: Staff and volunteers at the senior center are helping older Yorkers navigate potential financial issues, said executive director Heather Goebeler.

The center hired a part-time case manager to help link residents such as Rossell to helpful resources.

"It's a chance to help seniors be more self-sufficient," she said. "The great part is more people are coming for help, and we are here to help."

With premiums potentially increasing, Rossell said he'll take it one day at a time.

He's working with a caseworker to stabilize his budget and hopes to be able to afford a cellphone very soon, he said.