In case you've forgotten amid all this "reform Social Security" hubbub, Medicare is in even more trouble, and sooner. USA Today does a quick survey of the grim landscape:
The National Health program for Americans 65 and older faces all the demographic difficulties that have made Social Security the president's No. 1 domestic priority: aging baby boomers, fewer workers paying taxes in the future, and a system that will soon be unable to deliver on its promises. Social Security's fiscal problems escalate in about 2018, when it is projected to begin paying out more in benefits than it receives in taxes; Medicare reached that milestone last year.
The daunting job of fixing the seniors' health care program was underscored last month by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who told a Senate panel that Medicare is "several multiples more difficult than is Social Security."
"Social Security is solvable," says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who's trying to bring together Republicans and Democrats for a plan that includes new private investment accounts. "I just don't know how to do Medicare."
More than 41 million Americans depend on Medicare to pay for doctors' visits and hospital bills. Beginning next year, it will cover part of their prescription-drug bills as well. The program's $325 billion cost is dwarfed by the $517 billion spent on Social Security. But Medicare is projected to grow by 9% a year through 2015, while Social Security's annual growth rate is estimated at 5.6%.
The article, worth reading in its entirety, goes on to briefly discuss some possible cost-cutting measures, and explain why they are all more or less politically impossible right now. Oh well, like all things that can't go on forever, this system will inevitably stop. How, when, and what will replace it, as the cliched news anchors say, remains to be seen–though a shift away from so much third party payment, and its concomitant cost explosion, is doubtless inevitable, somehow, someway.