Finances Worsen for Social Security, Medicare

The long-term finances for Social Security and Medicare are worsening, according to a report released by the trustees of the programs. The funds will both run dry by 2033.

“In our joint message last year, we warned that both Social Security and Medicare face substantial challenges, and opined that elected officials will best serve the interests of the public if changes are enacted at the earliest possible time,” the funds’ trustees wrote. “This year we sound the same warning but with greater urgency.”

hese two programs — accounting for 36% of federal expenditures in 2011 — can expect cost growth to increase more than GDP growth. The aging population coupled with the lower birth rate of generations entering employment will be the largest factor for costs to grow faster than GDP.

“The reports underscore the need for an open national conversation focused on strengthening retirement security of today’s seniors and future generations,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond in a statement.

The projected exhaustion of Social Security in 2033 is three years earlier than had been projected last year. After that time, tax income will pay only three-quarters of scheduled benefits until 2086. Of the separate funds, the Disability Insurance program faces the most immediate shortfall, projected to be exhausted in just four years.

According to the trustees, the deterioration to Social Security is a result of updated economic data and assumptions resulting from the weak economy of the last few years.

“While Social Security is not in crisis, it will require modest changes to ensure current and future generations will receive the benefits they’ve earned,” LeaMond said. “The longer Washington waits to address these challenges, the more difficult it will become for workers who are trying to plan for their future.”

Medicare has a shorter life than Social Security, facing depletion by 2024. However, while Social Security’s projected exhaustion date crept closer, the 2024 date for Medicare is consistent with last year. Since 2008 the Medicare Hospital Insurance fund has been paying out more in expenditures than it has received.

While projecting Medicare costs over the next 75 years, the trustees took into account provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which means that the projected exhaustion date could be substantially different next year once the Supreme Court announces its decision in June. Also, the trustees assumed a 30% reduction in physician payments, which Congress might not even enact in the beginning of 2013.

“In reviewing these reports, we must remember that Medicare and Social Security provide the basic foundation of retirement security for millions of Americans today, and will be just as important — if not more so — to future retirees,” LeaMond said.