(4/24/20)-The trustees for Social Security and Medicare in their annual report that was released on Wednesday said they expect Social Security’s reserves to be depleted by 2035, which would require an automatic reduction in benefits unless Congress acted to shore up the program.

The program’s revenue comes from two sources, namely tax revenue and income from its trust fund. Social Security consists of two programs, one for retirees, and the other for individuals who claim disability benefits.

Benefits could be paid in full through 2034, but after that, the program would have to reduce benefits by about 76%. The trustees projected that benefits would exceed revenue starting in 2021, one year later than projected last year.

The disability fund would run out in 2065, 13 years later than projected in last year’s report.

The trustees said that uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to adjust estimates accurately.

(4/24/19)- Although the trustees for the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds reported a bleak view of their solvency, it was somewhat better than last year’s view.

Social Security and Medicare would start to run in the red by the end of 2020 when costs would start to exceed revenue, which in last year’s report was expected to happen by the end of 2018. This is the first time that would happen since 1982.

By 2035 the trust funds for both programs will be depleted, and Social Security would no longer be able to pay the ful scheduled benefits. By 2035 Social Security beneficiaries would get only ¾ of their scheduled benefits.

Social Security consists of 2 programs, one for retirees, and one for people who are on disability. Last year, 52.7 million people received retirement benefits, while 10.2 million received disability benefits, and 59.9 million were covered by Medicare.

The retirement program will be able to pay full benefits on a timely basis through 2034, unchanged from last year’s report. The disability program is now expected to run out in 2052, 20 years later that last year’s report.

The report also stated that Medicare’s hospital insurance fund would be deplted in 2026, sthe same as last year’s report

(2/29/17)- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for almost $1.9 trillion of the federal government’s $3.9 trillion is spending in 2016, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO projects that the number of people 65 and older will grow by one-third over the next decade, causing even further concern as to the solvency of these programs.

(10/20/16)- Officials of the Social Security Administration announced that the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax would rise to $127,200 in 2017 from its 2016 level of $118,500. That represents a 7.3% increase and would affect an estimated 12 million workers.

Employees’ share of the Social Security payroll tax is 6.2% of eligible wages. Employers also pay a 6.2% tax on eligible wages. Self-employed individuals pay both the employer’s and employee’s share of the tax.

That increase in taxable earning cap is the largest percentage increase since 1983.

(6/29/16)- The trustees for the Social Security trust fund for old-age benefits and disability insurance, although depleted by 2034, would have enough funds from tax collections to pay about three-fourths of promised benefits through 2090.

Social Security and Medicare account for about 40% of all federal spending.

The projected growth in Medicare spending will not immediately set off automatic cuts in the program under the provision in the Affordable Care Act that generally requires cuts when spending is expected to exceed certain benchmarks.

Medicare now spends an average of nearly $13,000 per beneficiary. The report predicted that Social Security will provide a 0.02% cost-of-living increase in 2017.

The report also projected that the standard premium for Medicare would increase from $121.80a month to $149 per month next year.

(6/23/16)- The annual report from the trustees on the solvency of Social Security shows that it would exhaust its reserves in 2034, which is the same as it was last year.

Medicare funds, on the other hand, would be depleted by 2028, two years earlier than last year’s projection

(2/3/16)- In 2015, the maximum amount of Social Security tax that should have been withheld from all your paychecks was $7,347. Earnings up to $118,500 were taxed at a 6.2% rate as your Social security tax in 2015.

There have been several proposals advanced to increase the Social Security tax rate, since the solvency of the system has become a problem that must be faced sooner or later. The ratio of active workers contributing to the system, versus the number of retirees continues to decrease

(8/15/15)- Social Security turned 80 on August 15th, and its problems are not going away.

The Social Security's Disability Trust fund is projected to run into major financial problems next year. The Social Security Retirement fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2034. For more info on this topic please see our item dated 7/28 below.

Almost 60 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get monthly Social Security payments, and that number is projected to grow to 90 million over the next two decades.

One of the major issues confronting Social Security is that fewer employers are offering traditional pensions plans, and forcing retirees to leave their plans to go onto Social Security and Medicare for their benefits. Another problem is the fact that the ratio of current contributors (workers) to Social Security keeps decreasing because of the aging population means more retirees getting benefits


(7/28/15)- The annual report card from the trustees of Social Security Trust Fund said that Social Security beneficiaries should not expect to see any cost-of-living increase in 2016 because inflation has remained very low.

While about 70% of Medicare beneficiaries would continue to pay $104.90 as their premium for their coverage under the program, the remaining 30%, including new beneficiaries, and enrollees with higher incomes could see their premiums go up to $159.30 in 2016.

Potential premium changes or cost-of-living adjustments will not be finalized until October.

The long-term deficits for both programs decreased slightly from last year’s estimates, while the Social Security disability-program will exhaust its reserves late next year. If that happens it would trigger a 19% cut in benefit payments. Around 6% of workers who were eligible for disability insurance claimed those benefits in 2013, up from 4% in 2001.

The Social Security Trust Fund would be depleted by 2034, one year later than last year’s estimate. Medicare’s hospital-insurance program, which insured around 1.6 million more people last year than it did the previous year, will be able to pay full-benefits through 2030. That projection remained unchanged from last year’s estimate.

(1/15/15)- In 2014, over 59 million Americans will receive Social Security. Among them are:

38 million retired workers
9 million survivors and dependents
11 million disabled workers and dependents

Social Security recipients will receive a 1.7% increase in their monthly checks starting January 1, 2015. The amount of the increase is based on the consumer price index known as CPI-W. For the average beneficiary it will mean about a $20 monthly increase. This increase, which is called a cost-of-living increase, was 1.5% in 2014 and 1.7% in 2013.

(8/2/14)- In its annual report from the trustees (4 federal officials and 2 public representatives) of the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds, it was estimated that the standard monthly Medicare premium will be $104.90 next year, unchanged from 2013 and 2014.

In addition, the trustees said that Medicare spending per beneficiary averaged $12,210 last year, the same as in 2012, and it is expected to be about the same in 2015.

Social Security provides benefits to 59 million people, and, on average. About 10,000 individuals become eligible each day.

(7/18/14)- The latest report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that Medicare will remain financially solvent through 2030.The report stated that Medicare’s financial situation had improved sharply from its estimate in February of 2025. That’s the good news. Now, will that take the pressure off fixing the problems with the system?

On the other hand, the CBO reported that the Social Security’s outlook was slightly worse than it had previously predicted. Lower future payroll-tax revenue and low interest rates would widen the program’s shortfall between revenue and spending over the next 75 years.

Medicare is expected to spend about $500 billion this year on benefits for 54 million Americans.5 years. The report went on to estimate that about 70 million Americans will qualify for benefits by 2030.The Affordable Care Act of 2010 has cut more than $700 billion in Medicare spending to offset increases in spending to expand health insurance coverage to lower-income Americans.

(6/4/13)- The latest report from the Medicare and Social Security trustees now estimate that the Medicare hospital fund will be exhausted in 2026, two years later than last year's estimate.

The outlook for Social Security Trust Funds was unchanged from last year, with trustees projecting that all reserves would be exhausted by 2033. There are a total of 6 trustees, 4 of who are public officials and 2 of who are public representatives.

If the trust funds are exhausted, benefits would be cut but not stopped altogether, since Social Security and Medicare are mostly funded through payroll taxes that would certainly continue to be collected..

The trustees said the improvement was due among other things to lower projected hospital insurance spending, especially for skilled nursing facilities. The number of Medicare beneficiaries is expected to grow to 73 million by 2025 from its present level of 52 million.

Social Security provides benefits presently to more than 57 million people, with an average of about 10,000 baby boomers becoming eligible to enroll every day now.

The standard Medicare premium paid by the beneficiaries in 2013 was $104.90 a month, and is expected to stay at the same level in 2014.

In an appendix to the report, Paul Spitalnic, the acting chief actuary of Medicare, said that future costs could well be higher than indicated in the report. He pointed out that current law would require a reduction of nearly 25% in Medicare payments to doctors next January 1, "an implausible expectation".

The two programs accounted for about 37% of all federal spending in the last fiscal year.

(4/22/13)- The latest estimate from the Social Security trustees is that its reserves will be exhausted in 2033. After that, the payroll taxes collected would be enough to pay 75% of benefits through 2086.

President Barack Obama has proposed that a different measure of inflation be used instead of the current one, which is the C.P.I-W which tracks the typical purchases of a sample urban wage and clerical workers but does not include retirees.

President Obama's proposal would use the chained C.P.I-U, which does include some retirees. It takes into account the fact that as prices rise for some goods, consumers switch to cheaper brands.

His proposal also includes two "bump ups" to try to alleviate any losses that beneficiaries have to take because of this change.

(10/18/12)- The Social Security Administration announced that the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2013 will be 1.7%. For the average Social Security beneficiary, who gets about $1,130 per month, this raise will increase the monthly check by $19.21.

As we noted in our item dated 5/4/12, "according to the latest figures from the trustees who oversee Social Security's two trust funds-one for disability benefits, the other for retirees-, will exhaust its reserves by 2033, three years sooner than the estimate given in our item dated 2/25/12 below."

There are 56 million people who currently receive Social Security checks.

(10/7/12)- Social Security paid out more than it took in last year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This is the second year in a row that this has occurred, and the CBO went on to say it will continue to widen in the coming years.

Outlay exceeded tax revenues by 4% last year. This gap does not take into account the interest accruing on Social Security assets. If interest earned is included, total income was $805 billion, while expenditures were $736 billion.

(5/4/12)- According to the latest figures from the trustees who oversee Social Security's two trust funds-one for disability benefits, the other for retirees-, will exhaust its reserves by 2033, three years sooner than the estimate given in our item dated 2/25/12 below.

Social Security pays retirement and disability benefits to 56 million Americans, according to the latest figures. Reserves for the fund that pays for disability would be exhausted by 2016, two years earlier than projected last year. If the disability fund were to be combined with the larger fund that pays for retiree benefits, all reserves would be exhausted by 2033.

Benefits would automatically be cut roughly 25% if the trust funds were exhausted. Monthly Social Security benefits averaged $1,125 per recipient in March, according to government data.

Social Security and Medicare currently account for thirty-five percent of the federal budget. In 2011, Social Security paid $596.2 billion in retirement benefits to 44.8 million Americans and $128.9 billion in disability benefits to 10.6 million beneficiaries.

The Medicare fund would be exhausted in 2024, which was the same projection as in prior estimated.

The number of people covered by Medicare benefits rose to 48.7 million in 2011, with about 100,000 people joining the program each month last year.

The public trustees of the two programs are Charles P. Blahous III and Robert D. Reischauer, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office. Richard S. Foster is the chief Medicare actuary.

(2/25/12)- In our item dated 5/18/11 below, the trustees for the Medicare trust fund estimated that its primary trust fund would exhaust it reserves by 2024. This was five years earlier than previous projections. Last month the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Medicare trust fund would exhaust its reserves by 2022.

With Congress recently passing a payroll tax cut, wherein the Social Security tax for every employee would be cut from 6.2% to 4.2% for the remainder of 2012, with the loss of funding being made up from the Treasury's general fund, this does not bode well for their trust fund's length of solvency estmate.

That estimate for the Social Security Trust Fund is for its solvency to last until 2036.

(2/19/12)- The U.S. government spent $1.56 trillion on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in 2011, according to the latest figures from the Congressional Budget Office. This figure accounted for 42% of the federal spending.

Last year, 2.8 million Americans born in 1946 turned 65 and qualified for Medicare, joining 47 million beneficiaries already in the program, according to census data.

President Obama in his budget proposal hopes to cut close to $320 billion in spending over 10 years through changes to Medicare and Medicaid, such as increasing premiums for higher earners.

Social Security is the government's single largest budget item, accounting for $725 billion in spending in 2011, or one of every five dollars spent by the federal government, according to the CBO.

(2/7/12)- In 1981, Social Security paid 52% of the average worker's pre-retirement earnings, according to the Social Security Administration. That percentage shrank to 39% in 2001 and will continue to shrink, especially with the eligibility age increasing to 67 for full benefits.

Federal spending on Social Security and Medicare is rising both in total dollars and percentage of the budget. Social Security made up 20% of the federal budget in the 2010 fiscal year, up from 13% in 1962. Combined spending on Social Security and Medicare represents 9% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and is projected to grow to 12% by 2035.

(12/25/11)- President Barack Obama signed the law that would extend for two months the cut for an employee's share of the Social Security payroll tax at the current level of 4.2% of wages through February 29, 2012. In the absence of Congressional action, the tax would have reverted to the 6.2% level. Employer's share of the tax will remain at 6.2%

This action will reduce the amount of money available in the Social Security funds, but in the long run, if as expected it helps the economy, the fund will benefit more than what it loses on the short run.

Under the law, the federal government will also continue to pay unemployment insurance benefits under current policy through February 29, 2012.

Medicare will continue to pay doctors at current rates for two months, thus averting a 27% cut that was due to take place on January 1, 2012

(5/21/11)- The data from the Medicare "Hospital Insurance" fund, which helps pay for inpatient medical care, home health programs and hospice care, showed that the program spent $247.9 billion in 2010, which was $32.3 billion more than it brought in through taxes and other revenue

Medicare and Social Security are the government's two largest entitlement programs, and their combined annual budgets of $1.3 trillion account for abut one-third of federal spending.

In 1955, 8.6 workers supported each retiree, while in 2010 less than 3 workers support each beneficiary in the program. With life expectancies continuing to grow many more workers will be required to be contributing to these funds in order to support each beneficiary receiving benefits from them.

In connection with the disability-insurance program, the number of beneficiaries receiving benefits climbed to 10.2 million in 2010, and that program paid out $23.6 billion more than it brought in through revenue.

(5/18/11)- The latest annual report from the trustees of the Medicare fund estimated that the program's hospital fund will be exhausted in 2024, which was five years earlier than previous estimates. This was caused by the fact that payroll tax revenues were much lower than previously estimated. Medicare now covers 47.5 million people who are 65 and older or who are disabled.

On the other hand the trustees for the Social Security trust fund lowered their estimate for the solvency of that fund to be in 2036, but at the same time they estimated that tax revenue would be sufficient to pay three-fourths of the promised benefits through 2085,

Social Security and Medicare currently account for more than one-third of all federal spending.

The trustees also noted that the trust fund for the Social Security's disability fund would be exhausted in 2018.

The 6 trustees, 3 cabinet officers, the Socials Security Commissioner and the two public representatives, Charles P. Blahous III and Robert D. Reischauer signed the reports.

(4/1/11)- The latest estimates are that the Social Security fund can survive intact through about 2040 and Medicare through 2029. The Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) will go under in 4 to 7 years unless the federal government intervenes to save it.

In 2000 there were 6.6 million beneficiaries receiving SSDI payments, and this number has grown to 10.2 million in 2010.

(10/16/10)- By 2016, Social Security will begin paying more in benefits than it will collect in payroll taxes. This trust fund will be exhausted by 2037.

The House of Representatives will vote next month, when Congress reconvenes, on a bill to give an extra $250 payment to Social Security recipients. Representative Earl Pomeroy (D., N.D.) is a co-sponsor of the bill. It is unclear as to whether or not the Senate will act on the bill when it meets again in November.

Payments under Mr. Pomeroy's bill, would go to 54 million people, including retirees, disabled veterans, and other disable people, at a cost of $14 billion.

For the second year in a row there will be no cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients. Please see our item dated 3/27/09 in connection with this matter.

(5/10/09)-The Social Security Administration uses individual medical records to determine almost 3 million disability claims each year. It is the largest independent federal agency, and will pay $615 billion in Social Security benefits to over 51 million beneficiaries, and provide more than $43 billion in assistance to over 7 million SSI recipients with limited income and assets

(3/2709)- With the economy in a recession, and many financial experts predicting a deflationary economy, can we expect to see a decrease in Social Security benefits next year? That is a question that has been arising in the mind of many of the beneficiaries.

Social Security recipients have received a cost-of-living increase every year since 1975. The lowest increase was in 1987 and 1999 when it was only 1.3%. This year beneficiaries received a 5.8% increase.

The cost-of-living adjustment is based on the increase, if any in the average CPI-W for the third quarter of this year compared to what it was in the third quarter of 2008. Therefore the adjustment would be based on the average data for this coming July, August and September versus the same months in 2008.

The Congressional Budget Office "anticipates that the year-over-year change in consumer prices for the third quarter of 2009 will show a decline. This implies that next year's cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security, and most other benefit programs, will be zero" according to the figures in a January report from the CBO.

If the premium for your Part B increases next year, since the amount of your Social Security benefit check can not be decreased, you will receive an increase to cover the cost as part of your benefit next year.

The SSA uses individual medical records to determine almost 3 million disability claims each year. It is the largest independent federal agency, and will pay $615 billion in Social Security benefits to over 51 million beneficiaries, and provide more than $43 billion in assistance to over 7million SSI recipients with limited income and assets. 

(10/21/08)- The Social Security Administration announced that Social Security checks will increase by 5.8% starting January 1, 2009 for nearly 50 million retirees, and people who are on Supplemental Security Income benefits for the poor. It is the largest increase since a 7.4% increase in 1982. The typical retiree's monthly check will rise to $1,090.

For data on last year's increase please go to our item dated 10/31/07 below.

(8/26/08)- According to the latest figures from the trustees of the Social Security Trust fund, the trust fund will be bankrupt in the year 2041, at which point it will be able to pay only about 75% of promised benefits. That does not mean it collapses entirely, as those who are predicting doom and gloom for it.

The trustees further reported that in 2017, the Social Security Administration would begin paying out more in benefits than it collects in revenue.

Starting in 2027, Social Security will have to tap the principal in its trust funds to meet its monthly obligations. These are the funds that have lent money to the U.S. government when it exceeds its debt limit, in return for which it received special issue bonds as collateral for the repayment of that money.

(10/31/06)- The Social Security Administration announced that Social Security checks will increase by 3.3% starting January 1, 2007 for nearly 49 million retirees, and about 4 million people who are on Supplemental Security Income benefits for the poor. The increase for 2006 was 4.1%, which had been the biggest increase in 15 years. The monthly benefit for the typical retiree will rise to $1,044, from an average of $1,011 this year.

(3/26/05)-In its annual report to Congress the trustees of the Social Security and the Medicare Trust Funds concluded that the Social Security Trust Fund would be depleted in 2041 which is one-year earlier than called for under last year's report. The Medicare hospital insurance trust fund would be depleted in 2020, one year later than was predicted last year.

There are 6 trustees who comprise the board for the funds. As required by law, four of the trustees are administration officials. They are: John W. Snow, secretary of the treasury; Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of health and human services; Elaine L. Chao, secretary of labor and Jo Anne B. Barnhart, commissioner of Social Security. The two public trustees are: Thomas R. Saving, a Republican appointee, who is an economist at Texas A&M University, and John L. Palmer, the Democratic appointee, who is former dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

The trustees also stated that Medicare beneficiaries faced a 12% increase in their premium in 2006, with the charge rising to $87.70. The premium cost $78.20 in 2005, which represented a 17% increase over 2003 premium of $58.70. Please keep in mind that the new prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries that begins in 2006 is expected to cost about $35 a month, which will be separate and distinct from this Medicare premium.

The report also included the estimate that annual benefits will begin to exceed annual revenues from Social Security taxes in 2017. After 2017 the government will have to borrow money, or tap general revenues to meet the systems obligations. According to last year's report this shortfall would occur in 2018.

According to Mr. Palmer, the Democratic trustee, the main reason the projected financial condition had deteriorated was that wages grew more slowly than expected in 2004, and therefore generated less payroll tax revenue.

(3/17/05)- Under the current structure, payroll taxes will begin falling short of what will be needed to pay benefits in 2018, according to the latest estimate by the Social Security Administration. According to this same estimate the Social Security Trust fund will be exhausted by 2042. The only money left to pay Social Security benefits in 2042 will be what is paid in as Social Security taxes. This amount will be enough to pay about 75% of scheduled benefits that year.

(7/22/04)-The first comprehensive study of the Social Security system by the Congressional Budget Office, which is the nonpartisan overseer of the budget, indicated that the Social Security Trust Fund would go broke in 2052 as opposed to the Bush administration's estimate that it would be depleted by 2042. "Outlays are projected to begin exceeding revenues in 2019, with the gap growing ever wider thereafter, "the budget office said.

In 2003, the budget office said, Social Security spending equaled 4.4% of gross domestic product, somewhat less that the tax revenue dedicated to the program. The CBO's projection was that revenue will remain around 5% of the GDP for the next 100 years, but outlays will rise to 6.1% of GDP in 2030 and 6.8% in 2100.

The 221-page report by the Medicare Trustees for 2004 has just been released by Richard Foster, Medicare's chief actuary who has been in the limelight lately.. The trustees estimate that the Hospital Insurance (Part A) trust fund will go broke in 2019, 7 years earlier than last year's projection. Part A of Medicare is financed from fixed payroll taxes. This trust fund no longer meets the Trustees test of short-range financial adequacy.

The Part B, for physician care, trust fund is deemed to be adequate. It along with the new Part D, for the drug benefit, are covered by general revenues and premiums. The premiums are adjusted each year to cover about 25% of the costs. Mr. Foster estimated that the premiums will eat up 13% of a typical Social Security monthly check by 2010. It is also estimated that by the year 2012 general revenues will have to pay for 45% of all Medicare spending.

The board further warned that the fiscal outlook is even worse that the official projections because the estimates are based on the unrealistic assumption that the average Medicare fee for doctors' services will be cut by about 5% each year from 2006 to 2012, as required under the current rules. As we saw last year when a similar type cut was supposed to take place, a slight increase took place instead of the decrease called for under the forumla.

The report cites following reason for the part A trust fund's earlier exhaustion:
(1) the new Medicare legislation.
(2) higher Part A expenditures and lower payroll tax revenues in 2003 than expected.
(3) improved data on the health status of beneficiaries in HMOs, and
(4) model refinements for certain hospital payments.

The report estimates total Medicare expenditures were 2.6% of the GDP in 2003..In 2006, with the implementation of the new prescription drug benefit, the report estimates total expenditures to be 3.4% of GDP and to increase to 7.7% by 2035 and to 13.8% by 2078. Projected Medicare costs would exceed those for Social Security in 2024.

The trustees of Medicare and Social Security annual reports projected that Medicare would run out of money to pay benefits in 2026, which was 4 years earlier than what had been projected last year. Social Security gained a year from last year's projection so that its expected life span now extends to 2042.

Included in the reasons for the lowering of the projected solvency life for Medicare are the more pessimistic assumptions abut wages, which could erode Medicare payroll taxes. The solvency assumptions also included the fact that we have an aging population base so that more people will become eligible for Medicare with each passing year. The increase in assumptions about future immigration trends was one of the main items leading to the extension in the solvency of Social Security.

In saying that Social Security is "unsustainable for the long term" Mr. Bush reiterated his thoughts for Social Security which includes using a portion of payroll-tax revenues to fund personal investment accounts. According to Rep.Pete Stark (Dem-Ca.) however, "Solvency is still close to an all-time high….Those who try to use ill-conceived, so-called reform proposals are simply trying to deflect attention from their ultimate goal to siphon tax-payer funds to the insurance industry by pushing elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries into managed-care and other private plans."

President George W. Bush had appointed a panel to look into the need to overhaul the Medicare and Social Security systems. Former Senator Patrick Moynihan of New York, and Richard D. Parsons, the then vice-chairman of AOL, headed the panel. The report of the panel included comments allowing participants to invest in stocks and bonds as soon as possible. It did not show how it could accomplish it since it did not set out any financial proposals showing how to set up of such a system.

According to the panel the key date takes place in 2016. That would be the first year that payroll tax revenues coming into Social Security from employees and employers would fall short of benefit payments to beneficiaries. To cover this gap we would have to dip into the Social Security Trust Fund for the first time in the history of the system. According to leading Democrats however, there is no reason to believe that Social Security would run short of money until 2038 when the system will have redeemed all its bonds and be able to pay only 72% of promised benefits out of payroll tax revenues.

The Board of Trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund is composed of six members. Four of the members serve automatically by virtue of their positions with the federal government. They are the Secretary of the Treasury, who is the managing Trustee; the Secretary of Labor; the Secretary of Health and Human Services; and the Commissioner of Social Security.

The other two members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to serve as public representatives. The two present members who were appointed by the president are John L. Palmer, former dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and Thomas R. Saving. The purpose of the 6-member panel was to evaluate the assumptions, estimates and forecasts made each year by the trustees regarding Medicare and Social Security.

In the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2000 Medicare spent about $218 billion for the 39 million people covered by the plan. The panel estimated that the cost would double to over $440 billion by the year 2010. Please keep in mind that health care spending is currently about 13.5% of gross domestic product. Also keep in mind that prescription drugs are not covered under Medicare.

Last year the trustees estimated that the Medicare Trust Fund was projected to stay solvent till 2029, which is up 14 years from the prior year's projection of 2015. The Social Security trust fund solvency was projected to 2038 from the prior year's projection of 2034. The trustees also projected that life expectancy will rise from 76.6 years in 2002 to 82.7 years by 2070, a 1 1/2 year longevity improvement over the estimate made in 2001.

Three years ago the trustees of the Medicare and the Social Security trust funds reported that Medicare would go insolvent in the year 2001, and Social Security would go insolvent in the year 2029. It seems as if predicting the stock market is easier than predicting the health of the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds.

For the fiscal year 2000 the Congressional Budget Office has projected a non-Social Security surplus of $20 billion which is expected to grow to $100 billion by the year 2005. If you include Social Security surplus into the equation the government had a record $124.4 billion surplus in 1999, following a $69.2 surplus in 1998.

The solvency problem becomes more acute because we will reach a point in which more people will be receiving benefits through entitlements, than there will be people working who are contributing new funds to the two trusts. Up until 2001 we were in a period of economic prosperity, which had been the main factor behind the increases in projected solvency for the 2 trust funds. What will happen to the estimates during a period of economic pullback or recession? If we do nothing to correct the problem in the good times, we will have our backs to the wall when we try to fix things during periods of economic weakness.

The improvement in Medicare solvency estimate had been as a result of several factors. The improved economy has certainly helped a lot. The Government has undertaken a sharp cost containment since 1997. A crackdown on waste, fraud and abuse has resulted in an approximate savings of $1.2 billion dollars with even more savings expected in the coming years.

Social Security estimates had also benefited greatly by the healthier economy up until 2001. The estimate has also benefited from the lowered inflation rate factored into the equation. That has lowered long term expectations of benefits payments, which are indexed to inflation. In arriving at the estimates in 2002, the trustees utilized a relatively conservative economic assumption. They estimated that economic growth between 2010 and 2050,would average less than 1 1/2 % per year. That is about half the actual growth rate that has occurred in the last 75 years. Although the trustees are political appointees, their annual report in reality is the work of a staff of government actuaries and economists.

In the coming months you will read and hear much about saving these 2 systems. Keep in mind that Medicare spending increased only by 1.5 % in 2001. The Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund posted a surplus of $1 billion in 2001. Spending from this fund declined by one-half of one percent in 2001.

Save the Social Security surplus for the solvency of the Medicare and Social Security systems. That is the common theme emanating from the mouths of many of our politicians. Well, easier said than done. As an example of this all we have to do is look at a $14.7 billion emergency spending package passed by Congress and signed by the president in 2001.

The bill was originally intended to cover the costs of the Yugoslavian campaign and aid to Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 requires that before there can be any additional spending of Federal moneys there must be an offsetting decrease in spending to balance out the increase.

If however a spending is deemed and "emergency spending" it is not included within the provisions of the act. See our article Security and Social Security-Can They Co-Exist in a Balanced Budget. About $13 billion of the money needed for the additional spending came from the surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund. $1.25 billion of the money will came from some elimination in the food stamp program. Included in the bill was almost $5 billion more than what the President had asked for because of a combination of pork barreling by the legislators and increases in defense spending.

As an example of the horse-trading that goes on to get the budget passed the Clinton Administration had to make a very costly concession to get its last budget passed by Congress. The federal government will be barred from claiming any part of the $246 billion settlement between the states and the tobacco industry. They had hoped to be able to recover $16 billion of federal costs under the joint federal-state Medicaid health care program for the poor. Most of the pork barrel legislation was placed in a separate emergency package for future consideration. Some of it was included in this bill. Commercial fishermen in Alaska received $26 million to compensate them for Federal fishing restrictions. The local airport in Washington got $30 million, and $3.76 million was allocated to redo the dorms of the House pages. Salt Lake City got $2.2 million for sewers for the 2002 Winter Olympics. $2 million will go to intensify security at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and $250,000 will help revitalize downtown Los Angeles. $56 million was added to help school districts in states such as Iowa that would otherwise lose money under updated population numbers used by the Education Department.


See our article on Proposed Medicare Revisions 

by Allan Rubin
updated April 24, 2020

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