If Congress doesn’t act soon, a provision meant to protect Social Security recipients from reductions in benefits due to increases in Medicare premiums will result in huge hikes for about one-third of beneficiaries.

How huge? Medicare trustees estimate those beneficiaries not protected by Social Security’s “hold harmless” provision will get hit with a 52 percent increase, raising standard premiums from $104.90 a month to $159.30 a month. Higher-income recipients would see even steeper increases.

Inflation is the culprit. Specifically, the nation’s extraordinarily low inflation rate. Plummeting gas prices and steady prices for other goods mean Social Security recipients won’t get a cost of living increase this year. That, in turn, means Medicare can’t increase charges to about 70 percent of beneficiaries who have their Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security payments.

That leaves the other 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries holding the bag if nothing is done.

Asking the current dysfunctional Congress to act creatively and cooperatively, and to spend more money while they’re at it, is a tall order. But given that the alternative is to seriously tick off – in an election year no less – a demographic known for both its ability to hold a grudge and its tendency to vote, perhaps the will can be found.

A more accurate cost of living adjustment could help the government avoid this problem in the future. But for now, time is running out for Congress and the White House to find a solution. Trustees will set Part B premiums this month.

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