What’s Next for Social Security and Medicare?

What’s Next for Social Security and Medicare?

TSCL Tells Congress —"Leave Social Security and Medicare out of Budget Negotiations"

It's no longer a matter of 'if' Congress will cut Social Security and Medicare, but "when" most policy observers now believe. Much will depend on Congressional budget negotiations in coming weeks as lawmakers address the extent to which borrowing can continue for payment of Social Security and Medicare benefits.

TSCL is mounting a campaign that strongly urges seniors nationwide to speak out against benefit cuts. "We hope you'll sign and return the petitions we are mailing to supporters against the 'Chained COLA'," says TSCL's Executive Director, Shannon Benton. "Chaining the COLA is a $112 billion cut that will reduce your benefits by as much as 9% over the course of a retirement," Benton notes.

While the Social Security Trustees project that the program will remain solvent until 2033 and that the Medicare Trust Fund will be solvent until 2024, both programs are currently paying out more than received in cash revenues. Because the federal budget is in deficit, the government is borrowing the money to pay benefits. The cost of interest payments is increasing as a portion of the federal budget. The question is how long can the government continue to borrow the money.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that spending for Social Security, Medicare, other major healthcare programs, defense, and interest payments alone would require every dollar of revenue in about eight years, leaving nothing left over for the rest of the federal budget. The CBO further says that federal debt cannot grow faster than the nation’s output indefinitely without causing long-term damage to the government's finances and broader economy.

Pressure is on Congress and President Obama to reach a deficit reduction agreement to address rising federal debt. Many analysts expect that cutting annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) will be a central part to any agreement. That would not only cut the benefits of more than 53 million Social Security recipients, but those of Railroad Retirement recipients, military and federal worker retirees as well.

The CBO recently estimated that the two options with the biggest potential for reducing government spending on Medicare in the next ten years include raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67, and increasing the portion of the basic Part B premium that seniors pay from 25% of the cost to 35%. The latter proposal would increase this year's basic monthly Part B premium — currently $104.90 — by about $42 per month.

TSCL believes that the combined effect of COLA cuts and higher Medicare costs would leave the majority seniors far less able to afford necessities in coming years. Today the average monthly Social Security benefit is just $1,150 before deductions for Medicare premiums. The average family income of married couples 65 and over including Social Security is just $44,718.


Sources:  “Choices for Debt Reduction,” The Congressional Budget Office, November 2012.