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Health Care Changes for 2011

Although not directly related to health care, this is important to know: Beginning on 1 May, all new Social Security beneficiaries will be required to accept paperless payments - that is, debit cards or direct deposit to bank accounts. The new requirement also affects other federal payments such a VA, SSI and the Railroad Retirement Board.

Current beneficiaries have until 1 March 2013 to make the change. People 90 and older along with those who live in remote areas far from banks are exempt.

The switch is expected to save the government $1 billion over 10 years. You can get more information at this government website or call this toll-free number: 1-800-333-1795.

For the majority of enrollees, in years when there is no cost-of-living increase to Social Security, Medicare Part B premiums are not allowed to increase. Medicare beneficiaries who have their Part B premium deducted from their monthly Social Security benefit and have incomes of $85,000 or less will continue to pay $96.40 through 2011. (Some pay $110.50.)

For all others in that group, the monthly premium is $115.40.

People with incomes greater than $85,000 (and couples filing joint IRS returns with incomes above $170,000) will see an increase of 4.4 percent and pay anywhere from $161.50 to $369.10 on a graduated income scale based on 2009 IRS income.

Time Goes By readers have reported in the past that they have been “fired” by their physicians who stop seeing Medicare patients. In an effort to slow the outflow, primary care physicians, including nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, with 60 percent or more of their services devoted to primary care will get a 10 percent increase in their payments from Medicare beginning now.

Also, general surgeons will receive the increase if they practice in areas where there are shortages.

It's not a lot to retain Medicare physicians, but it's a beginning. However, the benefit expires at the end of 2015.

New Medicare rules now require a free annual wellness exam which includes a review of the patient's medical history along with a schedule of screenings for the coming decade and a personalized prevention plan.

For those just joining Medicare, the 20 percent co-pay for the Welcome to Medicare physical exam has been eliminated.

Beginning now, health prevention services such as vaccinations, screenings for cancer, bone mass loss and more that are Medicare-covered are free – no co-pays or deductibles – if they are rated A or B by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. You can see their A/B list here. Be sure to compare it to the approved list in your annual Medicare 2011 book or online here.


The “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D coverage for prescription drugs is notorious, a plague foisted on elders to further enrich the pharmaceutical companies when the law, written by big pharma, went into effect in 2006. Many old people stop taking their drugs when they hit the gap during which they must pay full price.

Now there is some small relief as drug companies are required to give Part D enrolees a 50 percent reduction on brand-name drugs while they are in the doughnut hole and generics will also be cheaper.

Personal costs could be reduced by $700 for typical Medicare enrollees and the National Council on Aging estimates that savings could reach as much as $1800.

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