Medicare, SS short on accounting

Washington again is crying “crocodile tears” about the financial condition of Social Security and Medicare.

On April 22, the government’s overseers of Medicare and Social Security issued their latest annual report, this one indicating that Medicare is headed toward insolvency by 2026 and Social Security, by 2035.

An Associated Press article in the April 23 Mirror restated the often-repeated warning that unless Congress addresses the pending doom, automatic cuts will kick in, if or when the programs’ trust funds become depleted.

On the same day as the Mirror article, the Wall Street Journal reported that Social Security’s costs are expected to exceed its income in 2020 for the first time since 1982, forcing the program to dip into its nearly $3 trillion trust fund to cover benefits.

Lawmakers in the nation’s capital, always fearing fallout from voters, continue to avoid taking meaningful, responsible steps to shore up the programs’ fiscal health, some of which, presumably, would hurt retirees, many of whom live on fixed incomes.

Lawmakers also treat such options as placing a bigger Social Security tax burden on the nation’s most wealthy individuals as a possible death knell to their political careers.

With the release of the new report on April 22, many people no doubt reflected on the assumption that the $1.5 trillion lost to the federal government by way of the tax cut implemented in 2018 would have had at least a temporary positive effect on the fortunes of Medicare and Social Security.

Meanwhile, one important fact that has hounded the Social Security and Medicare issues consistently has been the lack of a full accounting of all of the issues surrounding the two programs.

Yes, numbers are thrown about, like a couple in the April 23 Journal article — that in 2019 the combined cost of the Social Security and Medicare programs are estimated to equal 8.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product before rising to 11.6 percent by 2035.

That same article mentioned that last year, 52.7 million people received Social Security retirement and survivor benefits, 10.2 million received disability benefits and 59.9 million were covered under Medicare.

But those numbers are just part of the picture. To gain a full understanding of the complex Social Security and Medicare picture, Americans need also to be apprised of how much the various income groups are contributing each year toward the two programs.

This editorial is not aimed at offering remedies; finding fair, workable remedies is the responsibility of Congress and the federal government’s executive branch. However, the path to addressing money concerns regarding the two programs — current and future — must begin with a comprehensive examination of all aspects of the programs and making Americans aware of the facts.

Merely offering fear-based projections and observations by so-called experts neither is fair nor productive, without acknowledgment of all relevant factors — on the funding side as well as the paying-of-benefits side.

In the newly released report, the Social Security and Medicare trustees urged lawmakers to take action sooner rather than later to give policy makers enough time to phase in changes. But in response to that plea, Washington has remained silent.

Embracing the “crocodile tears” option hasn’t worked in the past, and that tactic won’t work going forward.

It’s time for Washington to admit that, especially as some politicians’ calls for Social Security for all persist.