The news for the Medicare Hospital Trust Fund keeps getting worse.
The fund balance declined by more than $3 billion to $127.6 billion in February, according to Treasury Department data released last week by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas).
The fund trustees had been scheduled to issue their annual report on April 1, but a HCFA spokeswoman said the document's release probably would be delayed until May because of government shutdowns caused by the federal budget impasse.
The February drop means that the fund, which had been stable since the start of fiscal 1996 on Oct. 1, 1995, has declined by $3 billion, compared with a $2.5 billion increase in the year-ago period. Most Medicare hospital reimbursements are made from the fund.
Earlier this year, the Treasury Department released figures showing that the trust fund had a $36 million shortfall in 1995 because of increases in hospital inpatient volume. The decline caught trust fund officials, who had expected a $4.7 billion surplus for fiscal 1995, by surprise.
After the 1995 data was released, Republicans accused the Clinton administration of hiding the downturn, a charge denied by White House officials.
Archer used the occasion of the release of the new data to again blast the administration for vetoing the GOP balanced-budget plan, which would have reduced projected Medicare spending by about $270 billion over a seven-year period.
"Because the president preferred to scare seniors and play politics instead of saving Medicare the trust fund is in decline," he said.
But Democrats returned fire, attacking GOP leaders for proposing to use selected Medicare savings to subsidize medical savings accounts.
Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said he was "glad Medicare has a mental health benefit, because the Republicans are clearly displaying irrational behavior on Medicare."