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Merkley decries tiny Social Security increase


Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., released the following statement after the Social Security Administration announced a cost-of-living adjustment of only .3 percent for 2017. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also weighed in on the news, which follows a COLA of zero for 2016.

“With today ‘s announcement, the Social Security Administration is saying that seniors only need about five extra dollars a month to cover rising costs for next year,” Merkley said. “To anyone who truly believes that is adequate, I invite you to come to Oregon and tell that to seniors who are dealing with skyrocketing prescription drug prices, or who face eviction due to double-digit rent increases.

“This so-called ‘cost-of-living adjustment’ should serve as a wakeup call that the current consumer price index is not working for Social Security benefits. Social Security is the bedrock of retirement security in our nation, and if we want to make sure that the value of Social Security benefits doesn’t become dangerously eroded over time, we need to act now to put in place a consumer price index that reflects the true costs seniors face,” the senator said.

Merkley is a cosponsor of the SAVE Benefits Act, which would give seniors a one-time emergency payment averaging $581 to make up for the lack of 2016 COLA, and the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act, which would move the Social Security consumer price index over to a model specifically built around the needs and costs faced by seniors.

Wyden, the Senate Finance Committee ranking member, also issued a statement on the small Social Security increase, which he said is expected to raise premiums significantly for some in Medicare Part B.

“Seniors in Medicare expect their health costs to be affordable and stable, and I’ll be looking at every option in the days ahead to make sure that remains the case,” Wyden said.

A “hold harmless” provision of the Social Security Act limits the increase in an individual’s monthly Medicare Part B premium to the increase in an individual’s Social Security benefit, and applies to the roughly 70 percent of beneficiaries who have their Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security check.

When the Social Security COLA is not large enough to allow for full payment of the Part B premium by beneficiaries subject to the hold harmless provision, the remaining 30 percent of beneficiaries have their Part B premiums increased to make up the difference.

This 30 percent group includes high-income beneficiaries, new enrollees, enrollees not collecting Social Security benefits, and the millions of dually eligible beneficiaries whose Part B premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs.

Last year, Wyden said, Congress prevented a drastic increase in the Part B premium through a provision of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (2015 BBA).

While the solutions advanced through the 2015 BBA would have been extended in the absence of a COLA (0.0 percent) for 2017, they do not apply in the event of a minimal COLA, as announced by the Social Security Administration Tuesday, Wyden said

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