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Social Security up $38; Medicare cost up $10


ALBANY -- What one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away -- that is the outlook for New York's senior citizens in 2012.

The federal government announced Wednesday that seniors on Social Security will receive a 3.6 percent cost of living increase in 2012, the first raise since 2009.

The average beneficiary will receive $38 more a month for a total of $1,120.

But part of that extra income may be eaten away by higher premiums for Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people over 65. The federal government will announce the 2012 premium for Medicare Part B (outpatient care) later this month. It is expected to be $106.60, which is $10 higher than what most Medicare beneficiaries currently pay. (New Medicare beneficiaries and high-income seniors already pay a higher premium.)

"I think people are going to be so happy to see a $38 a month increase -- that's good news -- but it's tempered by rising costs in health care and this premium for Part B," said Michael Burgess, the former commissioner for the state Office on Aging and a senior policy advocate for the Statewide Senior Action Council.

On top of that, New York seniors will shoulder more of their prescription costs in 2012 because the state drastically downsized EPIC, a popular drug assistance program for low- and moderate-income seniors. EPIC was cut by 30 percent, from $322 million to $232 million in 2011-2012.

"I keep saying I can't afford to live and I can't afford to die," said Mary Bryan, a 71-year old retired Catholic school superintendent who lives in Albany. With EPIC, Bryan managed her health conditions with several drugs that cost hundreds of dollars a month. Along with most Medicare recipients, Bryan is busying trying to find the best plan for her needs because Medicare open enrollment started on Oct. 15 and will end Dec. 7.

She is not sure what will happen in 2012, but she knows the Social Security increase won't make a dent.

"That will be immediately sucked into my prescription costs," Bryan said. "It will not improve the quality of my life."

Historically, New York's EPIC subsidized Medicare deductibles and co-pays and paid drug costs that were not covered by Medicare.

On Jan. 1, 2012, EPIC will pay Medicare Part D (prescription drug) premiums for New York seniors who earn less than $23,000, but drug assistance for everyone will be limited. The program will only pay drug costs when a senior is in Medicare's "doughnut hole," a gap in Medicare coverage where recipients have to pay prescription drugs costs out of their own pockets.

"All of these things are going to be making it more difficult for people," Burgess said.

Reach Crowley at 454-5348 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Visit her blog at

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