The Medicare Hospital Trust Fund is Running Out of Money
By Shannon Benton, Executive Director
TSCL has been concerned that the coronavirus pandemic could accelerate the impending insolvency of the Medicare Trust Fund. With record numbers of Americans out of work, fewer payroll taxes are coming in to fund Medicare spending. At the same time, the number of beneficiaries is rising and, earlier this year, Congress accessed Medicare’s reserves to fund COVID-19 relief efforts.
Medicare’s Trustees reported in April that the Part A Trust Fund, which covers hospital insurance and inpatient care, would run out of money by 2026. That estimate, however, does not factor in the impact of the coronavirus on the program. New estimates are coming in that the pandemic could cause the Part A Trust Fund to become insolvent much sooner. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a group of nonpartisan budget experts focused on fiscal policy, estimates that the pandemic will cause Medicare Part A to run low in 2023 or 2024 —as little as two to three years from now.
Despite these known challenges, President Trump recently signed an Executive Order which allows the deferral of payroll taxes, including Medicare taxes, if the taxpayer is affected by a federally-declared emergency like the coronavirus. The Executive Order doesn’t apply to all workers, only those earning up to $100,000 annually. The average worker will be able to put off paying just under $800 for the term of the deferral, September 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020, or about $60 per week. The move is only temporary, and workers will be required to repay the taxes next year.
While the President may have the power to postpone the collection of taxes, he does not have the power to forgive those taxes. Business leaders led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently said the executive order is “unworkable” because employers are still required by law to withhold and remit payroll taxes. President Trump has said that “If I’m victorious on November 3, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax.”
The Senior Citizens League is opposed to any payroll tax cut which would remove the major portion of Medicare Part A hospital insurance funding. That’s money today’s beneficiaries paid into the system during their working careers, and the same funds are needed today to reimburse hospital services for today’s patients.
To the contrary, the majority of you who have taken our Senior Cost Survey in June and July — 56% — think we need to invest more in Medicare so that we can respond rapidly and more effectively to the next health crisis. COVID-19 affects us all, and is expected to continue to be a threat for months to come. TSCL believes that investing more in Medicare now pays off in protecting the health, and future, of all its beneficiaries.