Going bankrupt later beats going bankrupt sooner.
But it’s still going bankrupt.
Keep that in mind when pondering the numbers in the annual report by the Social Security and Medicare trustees.
The updated projection of when the Medicare trust fund runs dry if the system stays in its present form is 2026 — two years later than the fiscal-doom date forecast in last year’s report.
The recently released report predicts that the Social Security trust fund would be exhausted by 2033 — the same tapped-out date projected in last year’s report.
Yet Eric Kingson, founding co-director of Social Security Works, an advocacy organization resisting the major changes that endangered entitlement system needs, responded to the new numbers with this flight from reality:
“Fully affordable and structurally sound, Social Security will meet all its obligations to the American people as far as the eye can see, with only a modest increase in revenues.”
For a much more realistic take on where Social Security — and Medicare — are headed without fundamental changes, review this warning from the trustees’ new report:
“Neither Medicare nor Social Security can sustain projected long-run programs in full under currently scheduled financing, and legislative changes are necessary to avoid disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers.
“If lawmakers take action sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare. Earlier action will also help elected officials minimize adverse impacts on vulnerable populations, including lower-income workers and people already dependent on program benefits.”
And last week, widely respected — and politically balanced — Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson pointed out that the underlying problems facing Social Security and Medicare transcend trust-fund projections. As he wrote:
“Dive into the reports — prepared mainly by Social Security’s and Medicare’s actuaries — and there’s precious little cause for optimism. As the baby boom ages, the costs of these programs will mushroom.”
In other words, the longer our politicians (and the voters who elect them) wait to make the tough calls needed to save both massive entitlement programs, the heavier that lift will be.
Some combination of reductions in benefits, increases in eligibility age and tax hikes will be required to address this inescapable dilemma: In the coming decades, the ratio of payers-to-beneficiaries is on track to keep dwindling. Thus, the chances of maintaining both systems’ financial viability are also in inexorable decline.
So don’t be fooled by slight annual variances in the trustees’ forecasts of when Medicare and Social Security will run out of money.
Instead, recognize that the trustees have long left no doubt about whether that national calamity will occur — without overdue overhauls of both systems.