President Obama has asked Congress to pass a second $250 stimulus - that's $250 per person for 57 million people. They include those on Social Security, railroad retirees, veterans and people with disabilities. The $250 payments will help make up for any decrease in 2010 Social Security checks.
Decreases are expected because the premium is going up for the prescription drug plan, Medicare Part D. Those premiums are deducted from the monthly checks for millions on Social Security. Others, like this writer, have opted to pay the premiums directly. Either way, it takes part of our Social Security check.
For the past 35 years, Social Security checks have gone up each year thanks to COLA - cost of living adjustment. Yet for 2010, no COLA increase will be paid. The reason given is that the consumer price index has gone down! (Cost of living adjustments are tied to the federal consumer price index.)
Seniors are asking, "How can that be?" Their medical costs are shooting up. And the average monthly SS check is only $1,061.
"While inflation is down over all, medical inflation, which comprises 30 percent of seniors' average expenses, is still going up," said Dave Certner, legislative policy director at AARP. "Combined with losses in savings, investments and home values, seniors feel like they're falling further and further behind."
Fortunately, there is a law that limits the increase in Medicare Part B premiums that cover doctors' visits. The cost for doctors' visits is also going up. But under this law, the increase cannot be larger than the COLA increase in our Social Security benefits. Since there is no COLA increase for 2010, they cannot raise the Part B deduction from our SS checks.
Advocates for seniors and others depending on Social Security say a similar law is urgently needed to protect SS checks from increases in Part D for prescription drugs.
This crisis is yet another reason to pass real health care reform. Edward F. Coyle, of the Alliance for Retired Americans, explains:
In addition to economic recovery measures such as the additional $250 Obama is calling for, Coyle says, "we must help current and future retirees by making sweeping, positive changes to health care."
"Congress must quickly pass a health insurance reform bill that closes the Medicare Part D doughnut hole, lowers prescription drug costs, helps early retirees afford health care coverage, and assists middle-class families with the costs of long-term care."
"It must be a bill that has a public option as an alternative to insurance companies that profit by denying care and discriminating against pre-existing conditions," Coyle says. "The final bill must not tax health plans or benefits, as this would hurt retirees the hardest."
Photo: Retired truck driver Frank Ferrira, 90, talks about Social Security at a Florida senior center. (AP/J Pat Carter)