IMPROVED QUALITY OF MEDICARE PLANS AND STEADY PREMIUMS ARE GREAT NEWS AS OPEN ENROLLMENT SET TO BEGIN ON OCT. 15

By Marilyn Tavenner, CMS Administrator

As we approach the beginning of Medicare open enrollment on October 15, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) wants everyone to know that for most seniors who have Original Medicare, the 2015 Part B premiums will remain unchanged for a second consecutive year. This means more of seniors’ retirement income—and any increase in Social Security benefits—stays in their pockets.

In addition, quality continues to improve both in Medicare Advantage and the Part D Prescription Drug Program, as more people with Medicare get access to higher quality plans. About 60 percent of people who have a Medicare Advantage Plan are currently enrolled in plans with four or more stars for 2015, compared to an estimated 17 percent back in 2009 (Medicare Advantage enrollment is projected to reach an all-time high in 2015, with more than 16 million beneficiaries). Likewise, about 53 percent of Part D enrollees are currently enrolled in stand-alone prescription drug plans with four or more stars for 2015, compared to just 16 percent in 2009.

CMS calculates plan star ratings for Medicare health and drug plans on a scale of 1 to 5—with 5 being the best—based on quality and performance. These ratings are designed to help beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers compare plans. Overall, the number of Medicare Advantage Plans and prescription drug plans earning four or more stars for 2015 increased by 6 and 36 percent, respectively, compared with 2014.

Improved quality in Medicare health and prescription drug plans is just one of the many positive changes we’ve seen since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.

Thanks to slower than expected growth in health care, premiums and deductibles in 2015 for the approximately 49 million Americans enrolled in Original Medicare will remain unchanged at $104.90 and $147, respectively. For the fourth year in a row, Medicare premium costs are meeting or beating expectations. According to Health & Human Services, premiums will be at least $125 lower over the course of a year then what the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated for 2015 back in 2009.

This news comes as historically slow growth in health care costs continues. Health care prices are rising at their lowest rates in nearly 50 years, Medicare spending per beneficiary is currently falling, and—according to a major annual survey released last month—employer premiums for family coverage grew just 3.0 percent in 2014, tied with 2010 for the lowest percentage increase on record back to 1999.

We’re continuing to work hard to make sure this good news continues. The lower costs and better care is good news for the Trust Funds, great news for taxpayers, and even better news for people with Medicare.

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