Premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers physician services, will increase by 15 percent next year to $110.50 per month, topping $100 for the first time. About 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, or 12 million people, will have to pay the higher premiums or have the additional amounts paid on their behalf.

The other 73 percent will be shielded from the increase because, under current law, their Medicare premiums cannot increase more than the increase in their Social Security benefits. (There will be no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits in 2010 because inflation has been low.) Groups facing higher premiums next year include new Medicare beneficiaries, high-income beneficiaries and those whose premiums are paid by Medicaid.

The House in September passed a bill that would freeze Medicare Part B premiums. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged the Senate to approve such legislation. She said, "We are in tremendously difficult economic times, and seniors are being hit particularly hard," adding, "The last thing seniors need right now is a substantial increase in their Medicare premiums, and many seniors will see such an increase if no action is taken."