Health Care

Social Security must reduce benefits in 2034 if reforms aren’t made

Social Security must reduce benefits in 2034 if reforms aren’t made

The Social Security program will pass an ugly milestone this year, as its costs exceed its income, according to its trustees.

The White House is required by law to tell Congress about how it will ensure Medicare's long-term solvency if official projections show a worsening in the program's long-term financing.

"As in past years, the trustees have determined that the fund is not adequately financed over the next 10 years", the report said, citing in part lower payroll taxes collected on lowered wages in 2017 and rising hospital spending.

The news was not all bad at Social Security. Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient visits, and Part D, which pays for most prescription drugs, are paid for in part by general revenue and by individuals' premiums.

More than 60 million Americans benefit from both programs, which provide a guaranteed income and healthcare for many retirees and the disabled.

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Medical costs have long outpaced economic growth, and despite some slowdowns in cost over the past few years, that has not changed.

The Cabinet secretaries for Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Labor usually participate in the annual release of the report, along with the Social Security commissioner, and take questions from reporters. Some 45 million retirees and six million dependents receive Social Security benefits.

Rather than cutting benefits, the Democratic-leaning Social Security Works coalition supports expanding benefits as a solution to the nation's looming retirement crisis by asking the wealthy to contribute more. And the trustees now say that program is going to be insolvent in 2026 - or roughly the same time as we are from the passage of Obamacare.

Higher deficits mean less maneuvering room for policymakers when the day of reckoning finally arrives for Social Security and Medicare.

"The continued delay in enacting legislative repairs renders effective solutions more elusive and poses particular risks to economically vulnerable populations", Charles Blahous and Robert Reischauer, both former public trustees of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds, wrote in a joint report published by the Bipartisan Policy Center in advance of the trustees report. But when the money is actually needed to pay for benefits, economists say a government deep in debt could be hard pressed to make good. In any case, Republicans may have damaged their credibility on budget issues by voting to increase government spending and cut taxes. Their formula is likely to involve tax increases to help keep the programs solvent.


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