A day after President Bush heralded his efforts to help the elderly cope with increased medical expenses, federal officials announced the largest premium increase in dollars in the Medicare program's history, raising the monthly expense by $11.60 to $78.20. The increase, which amounts to 17 percent, results largely from increased payments to doctors and reflects rising medical expenses generally, officials said. The rise has nothing to do with a program that will start in 2006 to offer prescription drugs, for which beneficiaries must pay a separate premium. The increase immediately became grist for an increasingly contentious presidential campaign. Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, released a statement saying, "After doing nothing about the record increases in the cost of health care over the last four years, George Bush is presiding over a Medicare system that is socking seniors with the largest premium hike in the program's 40-year history." Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said that "President Bush has worked to increase health care access and affordability, including guaranteeing Medicare recipients prescription drugs." Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Medicare program, said in an interview that the elderly were receiving improved benefits now and would l have lower out-of-pocket expenses when the new drug benefit began in 2006. Dr. McClellan pointed out that Medicare recently instituted a "Welcome to Medicare" physical and screening program, giving the elderly more for their money, informs the New York Times. According to Herald, in the largest increase in the history of Medicare, insurance premiums paid by elderly and disabled patients for routine care will rise 17 percent next year, the Bush administration said. The premium hikes would affect nearly all of the 41.8 million beneficiaries of Medicare. The boost from $66.60 to $78.20 a month is the largest increase in the program's 40-year history. The premiums are for Medicare Part B, which provides Medicare patients with coverage for physician services, outpatient hospital care, certain home health services and durable medical equipment. US Medicare patients' monthly premiums for outpatient care will jump a record US$11.60 next year, while deductibles for hospitalized patients will rise US$36, the biggest increase in 14 years, reported Monday's China Daily. The hospital deductible will gain 17.4 per cent to US$912 on January 1, and the monthly premium for a doctor's care will increase 4.1 per cent to US$78.20, the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. Social Security income increases are likely to be less than 3 per cent in 2005, said Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Centre in New York. The increase "is a body blow to millions of older Americans living on fixed incomes," Hayes said. "Older Americans already are staggering under the relentless increases in the cost of prescription drugs." The premium jump is mostly the result of a 1.5 per cent increase in physician payments under last year's Medicare law and new preventive services such as a physical for patients enrolling in the programme, said Mark McClellan, who heads Medicare. The government also is building reserves, publishes Xinhuanet. Read earlier news stories by PRAVDA.Ru
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