Medicare beneficiaries, expect to pay more for coverage next year. The Medicare Part B premium is rising, and high-income retirees will see a spike in income-related charges for 2020. But for the first time in a decade, inflation adjustments have changed the income thresholds for those charges, mitigating the pain for some high-income beneficiaries.
The standard monthly premium for Part B, which covers doctor visits and other outpatient services, jumps nearly 7% for 2020, to $144.60. New Medicare enrollees, those who don’t get Social Security benefits and those who are directly billed for Part B premiums are automatically subject to the standard premium.
Other Medicare beneficiaries may not get the full wallop of that premium increase. Given the 1.6% cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits in 2020, some Medicare beneficiaries will be protected by the “hold harmless” provision. That provision keeps many beneficiaries’ Part B premium increase from exceeding the increase in their Social Security benefits if premiums are automatically deducted from benefits.
But about 7% of beneficiaries will pay more than the standard premium: High-income beneficiaries don’t benefit from the hold-harmless provision and instead pay a monthly income-related adjustment on top of the standard Part B premium. These beneficiaries also pay a surcharge on their Part D prescription-drug plan premiums.
The good news for some high-income beneficiaries: For the first time since 2011, the income thresholds determining the 2020 surcharges are adjusted for inflation. Surcharges don’t start to kick in until single taxpayers have more than $87,000 of modified adjusted gross income (AGI plus tax-exempt interest), which is $2,000 more than the threshold that applied for the past 10 years, or until married taxpayers filing jointly have more than $174,000 of MAGI, $4,000 more than in recent years. There’s one exception to the inflation adjustments: The top fifth tier, which was new for 2019, remains the same and applies to singles with MAGI of $500,000 or more and joint filers with MAGI of $750,000 or more.
The not-so-good news? The total Part B premium for those subject to surcharges is climbing by nearly 7% across all the tiers. The first tier’s total premium, for instance, rises from $189.60 in 2019 to $202.40 for 2020.
Part D surcharges, however, are dropping slightly. For example, those in the first tier will pay $12.20 on top of their plan premium in 2020, which is 20 cents less than 2019. Those in the fourth tier will pay an extra $70, a 90-cent drop from 2019.
Of course, the biggest savings will go to those who fall into a lower tier because of the inflation adjustments. For instance, let’s say your MAGI is $135,000 as a single. In 2019, you are in the third tier paying a Part D surcharge of $51.40, whereas in 2020, you fall into the second tier and owe a Part D surcharge of $31.50—a savings of nearly 39%. The total Part B premium would fall about 18% with that same switch in tiers, to $289.20 in 2020.
Check eligibility for surcharge waiver
Medicare premium surcharges are based on information from your tax return two years prior. If your circumstances have changed since you filed that return, you might qualify for a surcharge waiver.
The federal government provides relief as a result of certain life-changing events, such as death of a spouse or retirement, which can qualify you to use your current, lower income and avoid the surcharge. You can learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov.
If you experienced one of those events since your 2018 tax return was filed, you can file Form SSA-44 with the Social Security Administration and provide the appropriate documentation, such as a letter from your former employer noting your retirement.
If you had a one-time spike in income, such as a large profit from the sale of a house, you’re out of luck on escaping the surcharges. But Medicare premiums are determined annually, and the surcharge will drop off in 2021 if your 2019 income falls below the surcharge income thresholds.
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