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Will my Social Security benefit decrease if the Medicare premium increases?                             

For most Social Security recipients, no. That’s due to the “hold harmless” provision of the Social Security Act, which prevents Social Security payments from going down because Medicare premiums go up.

When the “standard” rate for Medicare Part B (health insurance) rises, as it does most years, the roughly 70 percent of Part B enrollees protected by the rule get what amounts to a discount so that their Social Security payment doesn’t decrease. 

But … rising Medicare premiums can prevent your Social Security benefits from going up, or going up as much as they otherwise would, by eating into increases from cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). 

That happened in 2018, after two straight years of Medicare Part B premium hikes with almost no Social Security COLA. While the base rate for Part B was $134 a month in 2017, most enrollees paid less ($109, on average) to keep their Social Security benefits from decreasing.

In 2018, the standard Part B premium stayed at $134, but the Social Security COLA was 2 percent, reflecting a rise in consumer prices. If you were among that 70 percent mentioned above, some or all of your cost-of-living increase went to Medicare to get you closer to paying the full premium. 

Keep in mind

“Hold harmless” applies to people who pay the standard Part B premium and have it deducted from their Social Security benefits. It does not apply to people who pay Medicare directly for coverage, or to those who pay more than the standard Part B rate because Social Security considers them “higher-income beneficiaries.”

Published October 10, 2018