The publication of the annual trustees’ reports for Social Security and Medicare has become the occasion for some of the most consistently uninformed reporting on government programs of the year.
Actually, no: The Medicare report projected that its hospital insurance trust fund, which applies to Medicare Part A, will be depleted in 2026. But since even then the program would be able to keep paying out more than 90% of scheduled benefits, it’s not anything like “insolvent.” As economist Dean Baker observes, at most it would be correct to say Medicare will face a “shortfall” in 2026, not insolvency.
The more glaring oversight in Tuesday’s reporting on both programs is that the trustees made crystal clear that policies of congressional Republicans and the Trump White House have damaged the financial prospects of both programs. There’s a bitter irony in that, since the GOP continually claims that it’s imperative to make both programs healthier to serve the 62 million people dependent on Social Security and 58.4 million covered by Medicare; the truth is that the Republicans are doing their best to cut the legs out from under both.
It’s proper to note, incidentally, that the trustees of both programs are mostly Republican officeholders: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. Acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy Berryhill sits on both boards.
First, Social Security is stable, and in some respects, improving fiscally. Its trustees expect its combined retirement and disability trust funds to become depleted in 2034, the same as was projected last year. Even then, the program would be able to continue paying out 77% of currently scheduled benefits. Since by then the scheduled benefit would be about 20% higher than it is today, the result would be close to a wash. If Congress wants to avert…