With the start of 2018 you may have noticed some changes in Medicare costs. The increase in Medicare Part B premiums may affect the 2 percent cost of living increase you will receive in Social Security benefits for 2018.

The Medicare Part B premium for 2017 and 2018 is $134. About a quarter of people on it will not pay the full $134 premium because their Social Security benefits did not increase enough in 2017 and 2018 to cover the increase in the Part B premium.

Each year, the increase to the Part B premium cannot be greater than the "Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)," otherwise, a person's Social Security benefit amount would go down once the Part B premium is deducted. This cannot happen. Someone's benefit cannot decrease because of an increase in Part B premiums.

This year, the COLA is 2 percent, which is higher than in past years. If you did not pay $134 for Part B in 2017, all or part of your COLA will go toward paying the increase to your Part B premium. This may be easier to explain by showing a couple of examples of how this works:

* Harry's social security income in 2017 was $1,500 and his Part B premium for 2017 was $109. In 2018, Harry's COLA will be 2 percent of $1,500 or $30. The increase in his Part B premium will be $25.

($134 - $109 = $25). Harry will pay $134 ($109 + $25 = $134) for his Part B Premium, and he will see an increase of $5 in his monthly Social Security earnings.

* Edna's social security income was $950 in 2017 and her Part B premium was $104. In 2018, Edna's COLA will be 2 percent of $950 or $19. Her increase of $19 will be added to the $104 and that makes her Part B premium $123. Edna will not see an increase in her Social Security earnings.

If you have questions about your Medicare Part B premium increase, call Brenda at (715) 395-7533 Mondays and Wednesdays or (715) 394-3611 Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Brenda Kohel is an elder benefit specialist for Douglas County.