One of the most important elements of the deal for seniors, experts said, is the shoring up of Social Security disability insurance. The program was in financial crisis, and beneficiaries were facing a potential 20 percent cut in their benefits in 2016.
The budget deal tweaks how payments into Social Security by employers and employees are allocated to give the disability insurance program some breathing room. Currently, the government collects 6.2 percent of income from employees and 6.2 percent from employers (along with 12.4 percent from those who are self-employed.) Of that, 10.6 percent goes to the main Social Security trust fund, and the rest, 1.8 percent, to the disability fund.
The deal increases the share going to the disability fund to 2.37 percent for three years, buying time for Congress to come up with a longer term solution to the challenges facing both Social Security trust funds.
"That's a lot of peace of mind for 11 million Americans [receiving disability benefits] and their families," said Firvida, noting that roughly 70 percent of beneficiaries are age 50 or over.
Johnson points to another element of the deal as especially important for seniors: a move to curb Medicare Part B premium hikes. Social Security payments will not be increasing next year because inflation is so low, but regulations bar Social Security recipients from seeing their checks reduced. At the same time, Medicare Part B premiums were on track to increase.
As a result, the roughly 70 percent of beneficiaries who have premiums deducted from the Social Security check would not pay higher premiums — but 30 percent of beneficiaries would have had to cover the entire increase. Their premiums could have risen some 52 percent.
The budget deal addresses this by having the Treasury lend $7.5 billion to the Medicare program, so beneficiaries paying the increase will see premiums rise roughly 15 percent — a sharp hike, but much less than without the loan. And in 2017, Medicare beneficiaries will start repaying the loan to the tune of $3 per beneficiary per month.