Congress should keep its cotton-picking hands off the Medicare hospital trust fund.
Contrary to recent rosy reports, Medicare and Social Security are still on the road to ruin, even though serious problems may be avoided for a while. Trustees of the two programs say the Medicare hospitalization program should remain solvent until 2029, four years longer than was projected in last year's report. Social Security's insolvency improved a year to 2038. An improved economy and a cutback in Medicare reimbursements have fueled a temporary-and I emphasize temporary-reprieve.
The seemingly upbeat news prompted political gurus to suggest ingenious ways to raid the hospital nest egg, including funding for a prescription-drug benefit and transferring hundreds of billions of dollars to the general treasury. Our crafty new president even toyed with the notion of rolling Medicare surpluses into a rainy-day contingency slush fund.
A unified hospital lobby is organizing a campaign to stop the nonsense. It deserves your support, partly for professionally selfish reasons but also as a way for the nation to face the pending economic/demographic realities.
As the selfish, self-centered and spoiled baby boom generation ages, the fiscal burden of providing healthcare to the elderly could easily overpower the government's ability to pay. Many of these boomers will live well into their 80s and 90s. They will require costly medical services and lengthy inpatient stays.
In about 15 years, the Medicare trust fund will begin spending more than it takes in. The combined Medicare Parts A and B funds currently account for 2.24% of the nation's gross domestic product. By 2025, that figure will climb to more than 4%, and economists believe it could eventually reach 8%.
Did I mention that the U.S. population will skyrocket to nearly 400 million, from 283 million, by mid-century? More people, more burden on the healthcare system.
Real reform of Medicare is long overdue, but peeling off dollars from Medicare's hospital fund to finance new benefits and nonhealthcare projects is hardly wise statesmanship. Healthcare managers should help convince their elected officials that the Part A trust fund needs to be walled off.