Report: Medicare is very sick

A Medicare Services office in New York City

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: Today, the Medicare trustees give us their annual report on the fiscal soundness of the seniors' health program. Uh, it's not so fiscally sound. In fact, the numbers are so bad, they'll trigger a Medicare funding warning for the first time. Helen Palmer reports from our Health Desk at WGBH.


HELEN PALMER: A 2003 law tried to get a handle on rising Medicare spending by requiring this warning. It's triggered if trustees predict for two years running that more than 45 percent of the program's funding will have to come from general tax revenue.

Last year the trustees said that would happen in five years. Today's report will peg the date around 2013.

The warning has consequences, says Medicare trustee Thomas Saving.

THOMAS SAVING: It forces the executive branch to produce a remedy that they have to deliver the Congress by something like January 2008.

Saving says the obvious remedies to fix the program aren't pretty. You could make the elderly pay more, but within 25 years premiums would eat up their entire Social Security check.

Or you could raise taxes.

SAVING: Between now and 2020, probably a 15 percent increase in the overall level of taxation.

That's not going to happen, says Saving. What's really needed is a comprehensive plan to set Medicare on a sound fiscal footing.

But 2008 is an election year, so that won't happen either.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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