A rapidly depleting Medicare fund could renew calls for major reform

Medicare's trust fund is running out of money sooner than previously thought, likely renewing calls to reform the 52-year-old program.

In its annual report (PDF), the Medicare Board of Trustees said the inpatient trust fund would be depleted by 2026, three years earlier than projected last year.

Medicare advocacy groups and Democrats are pointing to recent Republican policies, specifically last year's tax cuts, as the main reason behind the faster depletion, as the government is taking in less revenue.

"The GOP tax scam’s massive, unpaid-for giveaways to the wealthiest 1% and big corporations have gravely undermined the future of Medicare," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Now Republicans want America’s seniors to pay the bill."

They also warned that the GOP might use the report to draw urgency to Medicare "reform," which could include major payment cuts and policy changes.

"The Trustees projection should not be used as an excuse to cut Medicare benefits for older and disabled people," Center for Medicare Advocacy executive director Judith Stein said in a statement. "Instead, the administration and Congress should negotiate drug prices for the whole Medicare program, stop Medicare Advantage overpayments and end efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act."

However, some congressional Republicans quickly jumped on the issue of "reform."

“The Medicare Trustees paint an even bleaker picture than last year, pointing to the need for commonsense reforms to ensure this critical safety net program continues to deliver healthcare to our nation’s seniors and individuals with disabilities,” Rep. Peter Roskam, chairman of the House Ways & Means subcommittee on tax policy, said in an emailed statement. "This warning from the trustees is a sobering marker of the work ahead to ensure this program is around for our children and grandchildren.”

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Congressional Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan, have tried to tackle the issue of Medicare spending for years without much luck. But the report might give their efforts an extra boost.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, called for Congress to act on proposals in the president's 2019 budget, which includes billions of dollars in cuts to the program.