Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2000

by James Gashel

Jim Gashel
James Gashel

The beginning of each year brings with it annual adjustments in Social Security programs. The changes include new tax rates, higher exempt earnings amounts, Social Security and SSI cost-of-living increases, and changes in deductible and co-insurance requirements under Medicare. Here are the new facts for 2000:

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates:
The FICA tax rate for employees and their employers remains at 7.65 percent. This rate includes payments to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund of 6.2 percent and an additional 1.45 percent payment to the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund from which payments under Medicare are made. Self-employed persons continue to pay a Social Security tax of 15.3 percent, which includes 12.4 percent paid to the OASDI trust fund and 2.9 percent  paid to the HI trust fund.

Ceiling on Earnings Subject to Tax: During 1999 the ceiling on taxable earnings for contributions to the OASDI trust fund was $72,600. This ceiling is raised to $76,200 for 2000. All earnings are taxed for the HI trust fund.

Quarters of Coverage: Eligibility for retirement, survivors,and disability insurance benefits is based in large part on thenumber of quarters of coverage earned by any individual during periods of work. Anyone may earn up to four quarters of coverage during a single year. During 1999 a Social Security quarter of coverage was credited for earnings of $740 in any calendar quarter. Anyone who earned $2,960 for the year (regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year) was given four quarters of coverage. In 2000 a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $780 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $3,120.

Exempt Earnings: The monthly earnings exemption for blind people who receive disability insurance benefits was $1,110 of gross earned income during 1999. In 2000 earnings of $1,170 or more per month before taxes for a blind SSDI beneficiary will show substantial gainful activity after subtracting any unearned (or subsidy) income and applying any deductions for impairment-related work expenses.

Social Security Benefit Amounts for 2000: All Social Security benefits are increased by 2.4 percent beginning with the checks   received in January, 2000. The exact dollar increase for any individual will depend upon the amount being paid.

Standard SSI Benefit Increase: Beginning January, 2000, the federal payment amounts for SSI individuals and couples are as follows: individuals, $512 per month; couples, $769 per month. These amounts are increased from individuals, $500 per month, and couples, $751 per month.

Medicare Deductibles and Co-insurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The co-insurance payment is the charge that the hospital makes to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary's  co-insurance amount. The Part A co-insurance amount charged for hospital services within a benefit period of not longer than sixty days was $768     during 1999 and is increased to $776 during 2000. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day there is a daily co-insurance amount of $194 per day, up from $192 in 1999. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty "reserve days" for hospital services provided within a benefit period longer than ninety days. The co-insurance amount to be paid during each reserve day is $388, up from $384 in 1999.

Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the firsttwenty days within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one-hundredth day within a benefit period, the Part A co-insurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility is $97 per day, up from $96 per day in 1999.

For most beneficiaries there is no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance cash benefits can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for thirty-nine months following the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2000 is $301 per month. This is reduced to $166 for individuals who have earned at least thirty quarters of coverage under Social Security-covered employment. The Medicare Part   B (medical insurance) deductible remains at $100 in 2000. This is an annual deductible amount. The Medicare Part B basic monthly premium rate charged to each beneficiary for the year 2000 is $45.50. (The 1999 premium rate was also $45.50.) This premium payment is deducted from Social Security benefits checks. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social   Security benefits because of working pay this premium directly.

Programs Which Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums:Low-income Medicarebeneficiaries may qualify for help with payments. Assistance is available through two programs--QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program) and SLMB (Specified Low- Income Medicare Beneficiary program).

Under the QMB program states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program's income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB programstates pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium ($45.50 in 2000). Eligibility for the SLMB program, also dependent on income and resource requirements, may be retroactive for up to three calendar months. Both programs are administered by the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) in conjunction with the states. In order to qualify, the income of an individual or couple must be less than the poverty guidelines currently in effect. The guidelines are revised annually and were last announced in the spring of 1999. New guidelines will be issued in the spring of 2000. The rules vary from state to state, but in general:

* A person may qualify for the QMB program if his or her income is approximately $707 per month  or an individual and $942 per month for a couple. These amounts apply for residents of forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income threshold used to define poverty isapproximately $880 per month for an individual and $1,174 per month for couples. In Hawaii income must be less than approximately $811 per month for an individual and $1,081 per month for couples.

* For the SLMB program the income of an individual cannot exceed $844 per month or $1,126 for a couple in forty-eight of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Alaska the income amount is $1,052 for an individual and $1,404 for couples. An individual in Hawaii can qualify if his or her income is approximately $969 per month; for couples the amount is $1,293.

* Resources--such as bank accounts or stocks--may not exceed $4,000 for one person or $6,000  for a family of two. (Resources generally are things you own. However, not everything is counted. The house you live in, for example, doesn't count, and in some circumstances your car may not  count either.)

If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay:

* Medicare's hospital co-insurance amount, which is $776 per benefit period in 2000;

* The daily co-insurance charges for extended hospital and skilled nursing facility stays;

* The Medicare Medical Insurance (Part B) premium, which is $45.50 per month in 2000;

* The $100 annual Part B deductible;

* The 20 percent co-insurance for services covered by Medicare Part B, depending on which doctor you go to.

If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will not have to pay the $45.50 monthly Part B premium.

If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security's toll-free number, (800) 772-1213.

Remember, only your state can decide if you're eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program. So, if you're elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local welfare or social service agency to apply. For more information about either program, call HCFA's toll-free telephone number, (800) 638-6833.