OUR OPINION: Trust funds’ solvency remains pressing issue

Millions of Americans and more than 500,000 Mississippians who participate in the Medicare program will pay close attention to new timetables released Monday by the government about the long-term finances of Medicare and Social Security, both extraordinarily important entitlements for the nation’s aging population.

Mississippi has 632,000 Social Security beneficiaries, including retirees, disabled persons and survivors.

A report from the trustees of Medicare and Social Security forecasts Medicare will be solvent until 2030, and the trust fund for Social Security will be depleted in 2033 – if Congress makes no changes in law to assure funding sufficient to meet needs.

The outlook for Medicare, interestingly, has improved significantly with the 2014 report, “mainly” because “spending on hospital care was lower than expected last year,” the Obama administration said.

The forecasts came in the government’s annual report on the trust funds, which together account for about 40 percent of all federal spending.

Social Security provides benefits to 59 million people, and an average of about 10,000 baby boomers – the immediate post World War II generation – become eligible each day. Payroll taxes and other revenue dedicated to Social Security would be sufficient to pay about three-fourths of promised benefits if its trust fund runs out, the government says.

Medicare, the health care system for people 65 and older, also is growing.

In their last report, in May 2013, the trustees said that under existing law Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund would be exhausted in 2026, and the Social Security trust fund in 2033.

The financial condition of Medicare has benefited from a “remarkable slowdown” in national health spending, news sources reported, attributed in part to the Affordable Care Act, which “curbed Medicare payments to many health care providers and encouraged them to find more efficient ways of delivering care,” one news report stated.

Despite projections of insolvency within a generation there’s been little movement toward resolving Medicare and Social Security issues for the long term. The programs are important, generally popular, and every one who’s eligible enrolls for benefits, in the main.

However, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund is projected to run out of money in 2016, just two years from now, and within the six-year term of the U.S senator elected this year from Mississippi.

It would be appropriate to hear the thoughts on that issue from incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran and Democratic challenger Travis Childers on Thursday morning when they will make back-to-back speeches at the Neshoba County Fair, a unique political venue for the statewide 2014 races.