When Medicare goes broke

When Medicare goes broke

March 31st, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

Many Americans on Social Security will be upset when they do not see their monthly benefit checks increase next year - just as they were upset when this year's and last year's checks did not increase.

Technically, a slight cost-of-living adjustment - averaging perhaps $10 to $13 per month - is expected in Social Security benefits next year. Unfortunately, rising Medicare Part B premiums - which cover doctor visits - have to be deducted from the Social Security checks of the 45 million Americans who get both. And the increase in Medicare premiums is likely to be greater than the increase in Social Security benefits.

That means most Social Security recipients' checks will not increase. The only silver lining is that the law forbids Social Security benefits actually to be reduced as a result of higher Medicare premiums. But those who were expecting a bigger Social Security check next year are likely to be disappointed.

And that raises a troubling question: What is going to happen to Medicare premiums - and therefore to any chance of higher Social Security benefits - later this decade when Medicare can no longer meet its obligations?

The Obama administration claims that "savings" from the ObamaCare law will safeguard Medicare until 2029, instead of the earlier estimate that the program will be insolvent by 2017. But as The Heritage Foundation points out, that is based on an accounting trick. In effect, the administration is saying it will use ObamaCare savings to extend Medicare's solvency - but it also plans to use ObamaCare savings for new spending!

As Heritage notes, ObamaCare "increases Medicare taxes and imposes cuts in Medicare that are double-counted as offsets for new programs, but are also pledged to extend Medicare's solvency. They cannot do both."

In fact, the administration may not be able to use the savings even once, let alone twice. The savings themselves are doubtful, according to Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office. He says the savings rely on long-term cuts that "might be difficult to sustain ... ." Meanwhile, Medicare's actuary says lower compensation to Medicare providers "might end their participation in the program (possibly jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries)."

So what is likely to happen when Medicare becomes insolvent? Several things: Premiums are likely to increase even more than they are rising now. Benefits may be further reduced. Our already too-high tax rates may rise, harming the very economic growth needed to sustain Medicare and Social Security. And our nation is apt to borrow even more money, on which we must pay hundreds of billions of dollars in interest.

It would be wiser for Congress to stop spending money that the United States does not have.