"I think wealth is in the eye of the beholder," said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "This premium affects people with incomes starting at $85,000, but in the discussion over taxes $85,000 is not generally considered high income."
AARP says hiking the premium would be equivalent to a tax.
"This is a payment to the federal government based on your income, and that is a form of a tax," said David Certner, legislative policy director for the older people's lobby.
Not so, says Bixby. Even the wealthiest beneficiaries still get some subsidy under the plan, just not a 75 percent price break.
AARP also worries that charging seniors more based on income could taint Medicare as a welfare program, undercutting its political support.
James, the Philadelphia-area retiree, said the higher premium feels like a tax to him. "I'm making a payment to a government program," he said.
He said he figures he and his wife were probably pushed over the threshold because of distributions from retirement accounts that people in their 70s are required by law to take.
It's causing him to rethink how he feels about Medicare.
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