Medicare's outpatient 'Part B' premium going up to $144.60

FILE — In this Nov. 8, 2018, file photo, the U.S. Medicare Handbook is photographed, in Washington. A new study finds that more than half of seriously ill Medicare enrollees — 53% — struggle to pay their medical bills. Prescription drugs are the leading problem. The researchers who wrote Monday’s report in the journal Health Affairs were surprised by their findings, since Medicare is considered relatively good coverage.

WASHINGTON — Medicare’s “Part B” premium for outpatient care will rise by nearly 7% to $144.60 a month next year, officials said Friday. They blamed rising spending on medications.

The $9.10 monthly increase follows a smaller $1.50 rise this year. It comes after Social Security announced a modest cost-of-living raise for 2020 that works out to about $24 a month for the average retired worker.

“People who are really counting on that Social Security (raise) will lose some of that to this Medicare increase,” said Fred Riccardi, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a group that advocates on health care issues. “For people who live with little to no savings, any increase in Medicare premiums or drug costs is going to be a struggle.”

Medicare blamed the premium increase largely on rising spending for drugs administered in doctors’ offices. Those medications are covered under the Part B outpatient benefit and include many cancer drugs.

“These higher costs have a ripple effect and result in higher Part B premiums and deductible,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement. Pharmacy drugs are covered by another part of Medicare, the Part D prescription program.