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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

NCIL Employment & Social Security Subcommittee Presents: What You Should Know About the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015

NCIL members have keen interest in the SSDI solvency debate and in restructuring how the SSDI program treats earned income when we go back to work. Both issues are addressed in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, legislation that contains important changes to Social Security. A complete Section-by-Section Summary of the bill is available online (PDF).

The NCIL Employment & Social Security Subcommittee has developed a shorter summary on Social Security and Medicare changes in this bill of interest to NCIL members. We strongly encourage you to scan it for details on provisions we think may be of interest.

From the summary:

Sec. 833. Reallocation of payroll tax revenue.

Reallocates to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund an additional 0.57 percentage points (for a total of 2.37 percentage points of the total combined 12.4 percent payroll tax) in 2016, 2017 and 2018. This would be sufficient to pay benefit until 2022, and the total rate would not change.

  • NCIL Comment: This means that SSDI benefits will not be reduced due to lack of funds until 2022.

Sec. 823. Promoting opportunity demonstration project.

Requires the Social Security Administration to test the effect on beneficiary earnings of changing how earnings are treated for purpose of ongoing benefit eligibility. Under the demonstration, the existing “cash cliff” would be replaced with a benefit offset, under which the DI benefit would be reduced by $1 for every $2 of earnings in excess of a threshold. 

The SSA could test multiple thresholds at or below the current level of earnings that constitute a trial work month ($780 in 2015). Under the demonstration, there would be no trial work period and no extended period of eligibility, but beneficiaries could receive partial benefits if their earnings in a month exceeded the substantial gainful activity amount ($1,090 a month in 2015). 

In addition, the threshold amount could be adjusted upward to reflect an individual’s itemized Impairment Related Work Expenses. Once an individual’s benefit is fully offset, entitlement to benefits would end, but Medicare coverage would continue for 93 months.

Sec. 826. Electronic reporting of earnings

Requires the SSA to permit DI beneficiaries to report their earnings via electronic means, including telephone and internet, similar to what is available to Supplemental Security Income recipients. (Effective not later than September 30, 2017)

Medicare Provision

Sec. 601. Maintaining 2016 Medicare Part B Premium and Deductible Levels Consistent With Actuarially Fair Rates.

In 2015, the monthly Part B premium rate is $104.90.

Without Congressional action, the estimated monthly Part B premium in 2016 for beneficiaries not held harmless would be $159.30. This policy would maintain the hold harmless provision in current law and prevent a dramatic premium increase on beneficiaries not held harmless.

This policy accomplishes this by setting a new 2016 basic Part B premium for the beneficiaries not held harmless at $120, which is the amount the Part B premium would otherwise be for all beneficiaries in 2016 if the hold harmless provision in current law did not apply. To effectuate this policy, in 2016, there would be a loan of general revenue from the Federal Treasury to the Supplemental Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund. To repay the loan, starting in 2016, beneficiaries not subject to the hold harmless would pay an additional $3 in their monthly Part B premium until the loan is repaid. Medicare beneficiaries who currently pay higher income-related premiums would pay higher than $3, the amount of which would increase for beneficiaries in each higher-income bracket in proportion to income-related premiums under current law. If there is no cost of living adjustment increase for 2017, this provision would apply again.

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