The Medicare program has two components. Hospital Insurance (HI) and Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI). HI, otherwise known as Medicare Part A, helps pay for hospital, home health, skilled nursing facility, and hospice care for the aged and disabled. SMI consists of Medicare Part B and Part D. Part B helps pay for physician, outpatient hospital, home health, and other services for the aged and disabled who have voluntarily enrolled. Part D provides subsidized access to drug insurance coverage on a voluntary basis for all beneficiaries and premium and cost-sharing subsidies for low-income enrollees. Medicare also has a Part C, which serves as an alternative to traditional Part A and Part B coverage. Under this option, beneficiaries can choose to enroll in and receive care from private “Medicare Advantage” and certain other health insurance plans that contract with Medicare. These plans receive prospective, capitated payments for such beneficiaries from the HI and SMI Part B trust fund accounts.
The Social Security Act established the Medicare Board of Trustees to oversee the financial operations of the HI and SMI trust funds. The Social Security Act requires that the Board, among other duties, report annually to the Congress on the financial and actuarial status of the HI and SMI trust funds. A complete copy of the 2012 report submitted by the Board can be found on the CMS website.
In summary, total Medicare expenditures were $549 billion in 2011. The Board projects that, under current law, expenditures will increase in future years at a somewhat faster pace than either aggregate workers’ earnings or the economy overall and that, as a percentage of GDP, they will increase from 3.7 percent in 2011 to 6.7 percent by 2086 (based on the Trustees’ intermediate set of assumptions). If lawmakers continue to override the statutory decreases in physician fees, and if the reduced price increases for other health services under Medicare are not sustained and do not take full effect in the long range, then Medicare spending would instead represent roughly 10.4 percent of GDP in 2086. Growth of this magnitude, if realized, would substantially increase the strain on the nation’s workers, the economy, Medicare beneficiaries, and the federal budget.
The Trustees project that HI tax income and other dedicated revenues will fall short of HI expenditures in all future years under current law. The HI trust fund does not meet either the Trustees’ test of short-range test of financial adequacy or their test of long-range close actuarial balance.
The Part B and Part D accounts in the SMI trust fund are adequately financed under current law, since premium and general revenue income are reset each year to match expected costs. Such financing, however, would have to increase faster than the economy to match expected expenditure growth under current law.
The financial projections in this report indicate a need for additional steps to address Medicare’s remaining financial challenges. Consideration of further reforms should occur in the near future. The sooner solutions are enacted, the more flexible and gradual they can be. Moreover, the early introduction of reforms increases the time available for affected individuals and organizations—including health care providers, beneficiaries, and taxpayers—to adjust their expectations. Congress and the executive branch must work closely together with a sense of urgency to address the exhaustion of the HI trust fund and the growth in HI, SMI Part B, and SMI Part D expenditures.
About the Author: Rafael Gonzalez is Director of Medicare Compliance & Post-Settlement Administration. He brings over 20 years of experience in the Workers’ Compensation and Liability insurance industries with a specific focus on Medicare Compliance. Rafael has been responsible for all areas of Medicare Set Aside Allocations (MSAs) including the preparation of MSAs and their approval by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. At Gould & Lamb, Rafael’s duties include assisting clients with Medicare Compliance issues, specifically on Post-Settlement Administration and client education.