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Obama Fires Deficit-Cutting Salvo

His 10-year, $3 trillion plan would spare Social Security and raise taxes on millionaires

Some of the major Medicare changes would include:

  • Reduce the growth of Medicare payments to medical professionals. The rate of increase would be cut by half a percentage point.
  • For new beneficiaries in the future, the Part B Medicare deductible would increase by $25 in 2017 and again in 2019 and 2021. Current retirees would not see a raise.
  • Patients with home health costs would face a new $100 copayment per episode. That would go into effect in 2017 and apply only to new beneficiaries.
  • Beneficiaries who have medigap insurance that requires little cost sharing from them would face about a 15 percent surcharge.
  • Wealthier older people would have higher premiums under Medicare Parts B and D. Eventually, 25 percent of beneficiaries would pay the higher premiums.

Robert Moffit, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, called the president's plan a major disappointment. "This is not going to change the basic trajectory of the Medicare problem," he said of the $36.8 trillion shortfall in funding over the next 75 years.

Raising the Medicare retirement age to 67 was one of the "few precious areas" where both parties agreed. "It's long overdue" because life expectancy has increased by eight years since Medicare began, Moffit said. Obama's decision to back away from the idea because of political pressure is a disappointment, he said.

Richtman and Ed Coyle, head of the Alliance for Retired Americans, though, celebrated the decision to leave the Medicare retirement age unchanged and not cut Social Security.

"It is particularly important that, as we make key investments in our future, we continue to honor our nation's 76-year commitment to Social Security," Coyle said. "Social Security is a truly great American success story, keeping generations out of poverty. We are no longer a nation where you work until you die."

Richtman said the new costs for Medicare patients are worrisome.

"We're seeing so many seniors living off their Social Security check or just a little bit more. They're not able to pay more" for health costs he said, especially after not getting a cost-of-living increase for two years.

Next: Obama's plan likely faces fierce opposition. >>

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