The math is pretty simple. Gas prices have been lower than at any time since 2004 in much of the country lately, which is good. Well, sort of good. It's bad for those who work in the energy industry -- or to be more precise, those who used to.
It's also bad news for Social Security recipients, who for only the third time in 40 years will not be getting a cost-of-living increase in their monthly checks. That means 80 million retired and disabled Americans will tighten up a little on their spending, which isn't good news for the overall economy.
It's all because the Consumer Price Index (CPI) hasn't risen enough, thanks largely to lower energy costs. Yes, groceries cost more and so does rent but they don't have as much impact on the CPI.
Now, just to add a little more pain to the equation, healthcare costs continue to climb, seemingly regardless of whatever else happens, which means that the monthly Medicare tab that's taken directly out of many of those Social Security checks will increase.
This is where it gets a little complicated. There is a "hold harmless" clause that protects about 70 percent of elderly Americans from any reduction in their Social Security check.
That means the increase that would normally be taken from all recipients to cover higher Medicare costs will be taken from the 30 percent not covered by the hold harmless clause. That group includes people with higher incomes, federal retirees and new Medicare enrolees (draftees would be a better term, but might not be well-received). Their premiums could rise as much as 52 percent, to about $159, even more for those with higher incomes.
It is always good to note once in a while that Medicare is compulsory. The military draft is long gone but Americans are still compelled to enroll in Medicare. Those with higher incomes wind up paying as much or more than they did for private health insurance.
It is, of course, compulsory for much the same reason that Obamacare is required for nearly everyone: it spreads the risk around. Also, if it were voluntary there are fears it would be considered a "welfare" program instead of an "entitlement" program and would be more likely to be cut in years when budget pressures are intense. Every year, in other words.