With the future of Medicare on the line in the presidential election, The Associated Press asked the campaign about how President Obama's...

Share story

WASHINGTON — With the future of Medicare on the line in the presidential election, The Associated Press asked the campaign about how President Obama’s plans for seniors’ health care would affect critical issues of costs and benefits. Unlike Romney, Obama is not calling for a major Medicare remake. Most of the president’s cost-cutting ideas are incorporated in his health-care law and will phase in unless Romney wins and makes good on his pledge to repeal it. Other Obama proposals are drawn from government advisory groups or bipartisan commissions seeking consensus on how to reduce deficits.

If Obama is re-elected and holds deficit negotiations with congressional Republicans, he will be pushed for greater Medicare savings. Some Medicare questions for consumers to watch, along with answers from the Obama campaign and the views of several experts:

Q: What new costs can seniors expect under Obama’s plan for Medicare?

A: Broadly speaking, Obama would raise monthly premiums for retirees making $85,000 or more ($170,000 for married couples). He also would hit newly joining baby boomers with a series of fees.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Now only about 5 percent of beneficiaries pay higher, income-based monthly premiums for outpatient coverage under Medicare Part B and even fewer pay higher premiums for prescription-drug coverage.

Under Obama’s proposal, a growing share of seniors would pay the higher premiums over time. He’d also bump up the premiums paid by higher-income beneficiaries by 15 percent.

After about 20 years, the top 25 percent of Medicare recipients would be paying higher, income-based premiums.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that in 2017, a single retiree with income of $86,000 would pay $447 more in premiums for Medicare’s outpatient and prescription-drug coverage. A married couple with income of $175,000 would pay about $894 more in that year.

As for the fees on newly joining baby boomers, they’d face a $25 increase in their annual outpatient deductible (initially for a few years only), some limits on the use of ‘Medigap’ insurance to fill in gaps left by Medicare, and a new home health co-payment in certain cases.

Q: Hasn’t Obama also hinted he might be willing to increase the eligibility age for Medicare?

A: In budget negotiations with Republicans last year, Obama indicated a willingness to consider gradually raising the eligibility age to 67, from 65 now. Romney supports the idea. But the president has since walked it back.

“President Obama has always been willing to make hard choices to confront big challenges, and sometimes that means listening to other ideas,” said campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher. “But (Obama) believes we can strengthen the future of Medicare without raising the eligibility age.”

“I think it will continue to be analyzed,” said Don Berwick, Obama’s first Medicare chief. Berwick believes there is a downside to postponing Medicare eligibility, because a sizable number of future retirees would join the program in weaker health.

“As an administration official, I was not impressed that it would save money for the (Medicare) trust fund,” Berwick said. “But I would say it will continue to be studied.”

Q: Obama’s health-care law already increases the Medicare payroll tax for individuals making over $200,000. What’s to rule out a broader tax increase?

A: The White House says there are no plans to propose higher Medicare taxes.

Q: The administration pulled the plug on a new long-term-care insurance program because of financing problems. How does Obama plan to address this unmet national need in his second term?

A: The campaign says Obama is willing to work with anyone who has good ideas about long-term care and that Medicaid and Medicare will continue working to help seniors who want to stay in their own homes, instead of going into nursing facilities.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.