Despite good news, benefit programs face problems

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 29, 2014 at 7:21 am •  Published: July 29, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite some good news, Medicare and Social Security still face long-term financial problems as millions of baby boomers reach retirement. Social Security's disability program is already in crisis as it edges toward the brink of insolvency.

Getting relief from a slowdown in health care spending, Medicare's giant hospital trust fund won't be exhausted until 2030, the government said Monday. That's four years later than last year's estimate.

As for Social Security, its massive retirement program will remain solvent until 2034. The disability trust fund, however, is slated to run dry in just two years. At that point, unless Congress acts, the program will collect only enough payroll taxes to pay 81 percent of benefits.

"The fact is, without bipartisan action, benefits will be cut," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare issued their annual report Monday on the financial health of the government's two largest benefit programs. Together, they accounted for 41 percent of all federal spending last year.

Though both programs are "fundamentally secure," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said, "the reports also remind us of something we all understand: We must reform these programs if we want to keep them sound for future generations."

There is little appetite in Congress to tackle such big issues. However, the longer Congress waits to act, the more difficult it will become to avoid either large tax increases or significant benefit cuts in both programs, said economist Charles Blahous III, one of two public trustees.

"What is changing is that we are rapidly running out of time," Blahous said.

If Congress acts quickly, Social Security could be shored up for several generations through relatively modest changes to benefits and revenues. However, many advocates oppose any cuts to benefits, while many Republicans in Congress oppose any increase in taxes.

"The president will not support any proposal that would hurt Americans who depend on these programs today, and he will not support any effort that slashes benefits for future retirees," Lew said.

In 2030, when the hospital trust fund is expected to be depleted, Medicare will collect enough payroll taxes to pay 85 percent of inpatient costs.

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