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Medicare finances improve partly due to ACA, hospital expenses, trustee report says

By Amy Goldstein July 28 at 12:15 PM
Medicare’s financial health is improving, according to a new official forecast that says that the program will remain solvent until 2030 — four years later than anticipated a year ago — because of the Affordable Care Act and lower-than-expected spending on hospital stays.The report, issued Monday by trustees for Medicare and Social Security — enormous federal entitlement programs that have long rested on shaky financial props — shows a substantial strengthening of the trust fund that pays for Medicare hospital care in the federal health program for older Americans.

The trustees found relatively little change, however, in the finances of Social Security. The forecast says that the program’s trust funds will have enough money to pay all the retirement and disability benefits it owes until 2033, the same time horizon the trustees have predicted in their past two annual forecasts.

Social Security’s expenditures last year exceeded its income from payroll taxes, as it has each year since 2010, the report says, although interest so far is making up the difference. The funding for Social Security checks for retirees and workers’ survivors, forecast to stay solvent until 2034, is in better shape than a separate trust fund for disability payments, whose reserves are expected to run dry in 2016.

Overall, the report attempts to strike a balance between heralding the effects of the 2010 health-care law on Medicare’s future, while warning that the government must take steps to alter both programs to secure them for the long term.

As government officials and outside analysts have warned for many years, both programs are being strained by the nation’s demographics. As more baby boomers reach retirement age, people age 65 and older will make up an increasing percentage of the country’s population, with proportionally fewer working-age Americans chipping in payroll taxes.

Medicare’s finances are facing other pressures, too, including from scientific advances that lead to new treatment and therapies, the report says. “Projections of Medicare costs are highly uncertain,” especially looking out later in the century, the trustees wrote.

Analysts have been saying for years that the sooner the government acts to revise the programs, the less painful the changes will have to be. Despite several high-level task forces dating back to the 1990s having tried to devise solutions, successive White House administrations and Congresses have not acted.

This year, President Obama backed away from an idea he broached in his budget last year to save money for Social Security by changing the basis on which inflation is calculated for the program. But his 2015 budget proposalreprises the idea of charging more for care under Medicare to older Americans who are relatively well off — an idea that Congress has not touched this year.

Medicare, created in the mid-1960s, and Social Security, a response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, are twin pillars of the social safety net the government provides for vulnerable Americans. Last year, Medicare insured 52 million Americans, including 43.5 million aged 65 and older and nearly 9 million younger people with disabilities. Social Security last year provided benefits to 41 million retired workers and their families, 6 million survivors of workers who died and 11 million working-age people with disabilities.

 Source: Washington Post
 

 

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