Ask The Advisor: October 2011

Ask The Advisor: October 2011

Will We Get A COLA in 2012?

Q:  Can I expect a cost of living increase this next year?  Something needs to happen!

A:  Something does need to happen. Seniors haven’t received any cost of living adjustment (COLA) over the past two years — an unprecedented situation that hasn’t occurred since the annual benefit adjustments began in the 1970’s. At the same time, the cost of healthcare, petroleum products, and most recently, food and other consumer goods, are taking big jumps, eroding the purchasing power of benefits.

Based on the growth rate of the Consumer Price Index for Workers (CPI-W) over past 12 months, I’m projecting a COLA in the vicinity of 3.6% for 2012. But Congress may take action that would slow the growth of the COLA. Deficit reduction plans are likely to call for switching to the “chained” CPI, a move that TSCL feels would further undermine the purchasing power of benefits. The difference between the CPI-W and chained COLA has averaged about 0.3 percentage point since 2000, but that’s not the case this year. In fact, if the switch were to affect the COLA payable in 2012, seniors would get a COLA of about 2.8% — a cut of more than 20%.

The Medicare Trustees estimated that the base monthly Medicare Part B premium in 2012 would be $106.60. For seniors who became eligible for Medicare in 2010, that may be a modest savings. Those seniors are probably paying a base premium of $110.50 for Part B. But most seniors will pay more. You should plan accordingly as well since any increases in your Medicare supplemental plan and drug coverage and out-of-pocket costs, would very likely offset what little savings you may get on Part B.

The COLA will be announced on October 19th, and Medicare premiums and deductibles also will be announced in the fall. Seniors who are already retired and those nearing retirement have few options if the benefits they rely on today were to be cut. TSCL is fighting such proposals affecting the benefits of current retirees, believing that seniors need a COLA that more adequately protects the buying power of Social Security, and TSCL supports H.R. 776, the Guaranteed 3% COLA Act, introduced by Representative Eliot Engel (NY-17).

What you can do: Contact your Members of Congress and tell them that cutting the COLA to reduce the deficit is unacceptable. To provide income seniors can rely on over a retirement, COLAs needs to keep up with rising costs, something they don’t do well enough now.