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Nation/World

April 15, 2013

Medicare increase could ding some in middle class

WASHINGTON — Retired city worker Sheila Pugach lives in a modest home on a quiet street in Albuquerque, N.M., and drives an 18-year-old Subaru.

Pugach doesn’t see herself as upper-income by any stretch, but President Barack Obama’s budget would raise her Medicare premiums and those of other comfortably retired seniors, adding to a surcharge that already costs some 2 million beneficiaries hundreds of dollars a year each.

Due to the creeping effects of inflation, 20 million Medicare beneficiaries also would end up paying higher “income related” premiums for their outpatient and prescription coverage over time.

Obama administration officials say Obama’s proposal will help improve the financial stability of Medicare by reducing taxpayer subsidies for retirees who can afford to pay a bigger share of costs.

Congressional Republicans agree with the president on this one, making it highly likely the idea will become law if there’s a budget deal this year.

But the way Pugach sees it, she’s being penalized for prudence, dinged for saving diligently.

It was the government, she says, that pushed her into a higher income bracket where she’d have to pay additional Medicare premiums.

IRS rules require people age 70-and-a-half and older to make regular minimum withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement nest eggs like 401(k)s. That was enough to nudge her over Medicare’s line.

“We were good soldiers when we were young,” said Pugach, who worked as a computer systems analyst. “I was afraid of not having money for retirement and I put in as much as I could. The consequence is now I have to pay about $500 a year more in Medicare premiums.”

Currently only about 1 in 20 Medicare beneficiaries pays the higher income-based premiums, which start at incomes over $85,000 for individuals and $170,000 for couples. As a reference point, the median or midpoint U.S. household income is about $53,000.

Obama’s budget would change Medicare’s upper-income premiums in several ways. First, it would raise the monthly amounts for those currently paying.

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