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President Obama Sneaks In Another Tax Increase: Means Testing for Medicare Part D

 Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE


I must interrupt the development of my theme, “Managing Complexity In Order To Repair The Healthcare System,” to bring you this special announcement.

Starting in 2011, Part D enrollees whose incomes exceed $85,000 (for individual tax returns) or $170,000 (for joint tax returns) will begin paying more for Medicare Part D (Drug Prescription Benefit Plan). These “super rich?” seniors will be paying up to 60% more for Medicare Part D per person.

Some really rich seniors who receive a total income from all sources, including retirement benefit, social security, capital gains and dividend will pay the government up to an additional 500% more than their Medicare part D premium costs.

The government should fix the Medicare Part D program by negotiating the drug costs with drug companies directly as they do in the Veterans Administration. The healthcare insurance companies lobbied hard for this concession.

President Obama has chosen to tax seniors for the outrageously constructed drug benefit rather than putting seniors first.

President Obama slipped the means testing regulation for Part D into last years budget. Means testing went into effect on January 1,2011. I missed the regulation and its implementation completely.

Congress and the mainstream media also missed this rather historic regulation. Some would say the regulation was in plain sight but congress did not bothered to see it.

It was also astonishing to slip this into law when President Obama specifically promised he would not change Medicare benefits for any seniors. 

President Obama cannot be trusted.

It reminds me of President Reagan’s famous line. “I am from the government and I am here to help you.” 

President Obama’s plans to collect more than $8 billion a year from “wealthy seniors” for Medicare Part D drug prescription benefit by “means testing” seniors for all sources of income.

Major Democratic members of the House and Senate have been opposed to means testing for Medicare Part D. President Bush tried to get congress to pass means testing for Part D in 2006. It was quickly rejected by the Democratic controlled congress.

The Democrats arguments were consistent with liberal dogma.

“Social Security and Medicare are participatory programs, designed for all Americans—rich and poor alike. You work hard, kick a portion of your income into these two retirement funds, and are guaranteed a payout in your golden years. This gives these programs broad popular support—they are not welfare for the poor, they are guaranteed retirement benefits for all.”

“Liberals fumed. Means-testing of entitlement programs would send us down a dreaded "slippery slope," they argued. Soon Medicare, and then Social Security, would lose their broad-based popular support, and be merely costly welfare programs! Both Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton voted against a Republican proposal to means-test Part D last year.”

President Obama’s regulation has not gotten very much media attention.  Liberals declare the goal is to preserve Medicare's status. Wealthy seniors (earning retirement income from all sources of over $85,000 per year) did not recognize the increase in 2011. The tax is deducted from their electronically paid Social Security benefit.

This tax was another President Obama trick play.

Pete Stark must be fuming about the means testing. It contradicts his liberal philosophy.

“Requiring some seniors to pay more for Medicare is a red herring from Republicans who want nothing more than to end Medicare as we know it,” said Rep. Pete Stark, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. “Upper-income seniors paid more into Medicare when they worked. Applying a new surcharge is essentially double taxation and should be rejected.”

Charlie Rangel’s reaction to means testing for Part D was expressed in 2006.

“The beauty of Medicare is that we’re all in it together, whether you are rich or poor, healthy or sick,” commented Rep. Charles B. Rangel, senior Democrat on the Committee on Ways and Means. “Charging certain people more is the first step toward destroying Medicare’s universality and turning it into a welfare program.”

Nancy Pelosi’s take on means testing for Part D in 2006 was harsh.

“It is simply unacceptable that nearly 2 million Medicare premiums will double beginning this January,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “Seniors, who are already struggling to make ends meet, should not pay the price for failed Republican policies. With further premium increases slated in the future for even more beneficiaries, we must act immediately to protect America’s seniors.”

The Part D premium increases, known as means testing, are based on the same income thresholds as Medicare Part B means testing.

2011 Income thresholds are as follows:

2011 Income Thresholds (single)

Joint per person

Less than $85,000

Less than


$85,000 – $107,000


to $214,000

$107,000 – $160,000


to $320,000

$160,000 – $214,000


to $428,000

$214,000 or more


or more

2011 Part D Additional Premium (monthly)






2011 Part B Premiums







Part D plan members will continue to pay their regular premium to their Part D plan, but the income-related adjustments shown above will be paid to Medicare. It will be deducted from their monthly Social Security check.

These additional charges are sure to catch some seniors’ off-guard. Some who might be subject to the additional charges are those who own a business, those who are earning farm or investment income, seniors who are taking installments from their 401(k), or those selling a home for a profit.

This potentially historic change (and others like it) will slide right through, and serve as a model for further means-testing of entitlement programs”.  

What bothers me most is that there was no public discussion or political debate on the issue that I recall. President Obama simply hid the increased senior tax in his budget. He has often promised to make the drug plan more affordable.

President Obama’s means testing regulation is really an assault on the retired middle class seniors of modest retirement income.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” are, mine and mine alone.  



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