For the first time in 35 years, older Americans will receive no Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) in their Social Security checks in 2010, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. The forecast is based on expected low inflation, in contrast to 2009 when the COLA added 5.8 percent to Social Security benefits.

Next year's zero COLA is bad news enough for many retirees living on fixed incomes during a recession. But millions of them also face much higher Medicare Part B premiums next year.

Under an obscure "hold-harmless" provision of federal law, basic Part B premiums in any year cannot rise higher than that year's COLA. So a zero COLA means that the basic premium (currently $96.40 a month) must stay the same. "The intent of the policy is to protect the amount of the Social Security payment from being reduced by an increase in premium costs," said Peter Ashkenaz, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The hold-harmless policy gives this protection to the majority of people enrolled in Medicare Part B who also receive Social Security, Railroad Retirement or Civil Service retiree benefits.

But it does not apply to one in four (or about 11 million) beneficiaries who do not have their Part B premiums withheld from their Social Security checks, or pay a higher Part B premium based on higher income, or are newly enrolled in Part B.

For these beneficiaries, the basic Part B premium could rise to $119.99 a month in 2010, according to Congressional Budget Office projections. And if zero Social Security COLAs continue in later years, as CBO expects, it could rise to $128 by 2012. For people with incomes more than $85,000 a year who already pay higher premium surcharges between $38.50 to $211.90 a month in 2009, these amounts would be far more.

The result would be two levels of charges even for basic Part B premiums the lower amount paid by three-fourths of enrollees and the higher amount borne by the remaining fourth.

"Congress never anticipated a year when there would not be a Social Security COLA," said John Rother, AARP's director of policy. "This new situation raises issues of fairness unless Congress makes some changes before the end of the year."

The hold-harmless provision applies only to Part B premiums and not to premiums for Part D drug coverage, which are also often withheld from enrollees' Social Security checks.

"If Part D premiums rise in 2010, the result would be that beneficiaries with Medicare drug coverage will still receive less money in their Social Security checks even if their Part B premiums don't increase," Rother said.

(Information from AARP Bulletin Today, May 7, 2009, by Patricia Barry.)

I recommend this be the year that you contact your representative and express your opinion.

Scheduled activities

Thursday: TOPS will meet at 8:30 a.m. Art class will meet at 10 a.m. Ambassador Singers will practice at 1 p.m. The receptionist staff will meet for updates at 1:15 p.m. The building will be closed at 3 p.m. for staff training.

Friday: Line dancing class begins at 8:30 a.m. Bridge is played at 1 p.m. The Senior Citizens Association will host a covered dish at 6 p.m., followed with musical entertainment by "Big Al & Smokin Joe."

Saturday: The pool room will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. The building is rented.

Sunday: No activities are scheduled.

Monday: The Senior Center will be closed for the Labor Day holiday. Meals on Wheels will be delivered, although the Mini Bus and City Link will not run.

Tuesday: AARP Drivers Safety Class begins at 8:30 a.m. Craft Shop Committee meets at 10 a.m. Pitch is played at 12:45 p.m. Duplicate bridge begins at 1:15 p.m. Bridge is played at 7 p.m.

Sept. 9: Foot clinic is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (call 272-3620 for an appointment). Line dancing is at 8:30 a.m. Pinochle is played at 1 p.m. Life Writing Group and Sewing Group will meet at 1 p.m. (bring your writing project and your sewing project). The Senior Citizens Association will host a free dance in Inez Wasinger's memory from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Dr. Baughman's family is sponsor of the dance. The band playing is "Ortiz Band." Bring cookies for the break.Lunch menu

Lunch is served at noon.

Thursday: Oven-fried chicken, potatoes with gravy, broccoli and cauliflower salad, cranberry orange salad.

Friday (Fresh Fruit Friday): Smothered steak, baked potatoes, tossed salad, Waldorf salad, whole wheat bread.

Monday: Eldercare friendship meals will be closed for the Labor Day holiday.

Tuesday: Roast turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, cauliflower with cheese, fruit muffin, blueberry crunch.

Sept. 9: Baked fish, au gratin potatoes, green beans with bacon and onions, ambrosia fruit, whole wheat roll.

Visit the Senior Center of Finney County Web site at www.seniorcenterfc.com.