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May 13th, 2009
10:29 AM ET

Medicare is the real danger, not social security

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "Bob Weiner says we should worry about Medicare before we worry about Social Security."]

The front page of the New York Times today reads: Recession Drains Social Security and Medicare. The latest report card on the social safety net is not encouraging. The officials who oversee the program forecast Tuesday that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted by 2037 — four years earlier than estimated last year.

Bob Weiner, former chief of staff for the House Committee on Aging, says when it comes to fear over Social Security, it's much ado about nothing. He joined John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.

John Roberts: You say everybody has it wrong on the alarm bells being sounded about Social Security. How do we have it wrong?

Bob Weiner: Not everyone has it wrong. There are a lot of experts in Social Security who understand that this is a program that has been the most successful one in the history of American social programs – taking half of senior citizens out of poverty. Half of seniors rely on Social Security for 90% of their income.

Roberts: What do we have wrong, though?

Weiner: The program is solvent for the next 30 years. Once, and even then, when they say insolvent, it still will be able to pay 75% of the benefits even under the worst economic model. And the economic model that they're using is the crash that we're in right now. So they've taken the worst case scenario, instead of recognizing that the economy will improve and that we’ll go back to a solvency situation with Social Security.

Roberts: So what the Social Security trustees have said is that the system is going to go insolvent in the year 2037, that’s four years earlier than had been thought. It was earlier thought it was going to be 2041. But they say they have taken into account the bad economy and an economic recovery at the beginning of next year. What are they missing?

Weiner: They’re missing the fact that 11 years there have been deficits that the Social Security trust fund has already absorbed. In the past 15 years, there have been three times that they stated that the system will go downward rather than upward. This is a fluctuating system. What we have now, John, and I don't want to get in to the weeds, but you have the lowest birthrate by the baby boomers: 2.1. You have a 2.9 birthrate for the current baby-boomers but they're having the fewest children. So as soon as you get past this little blip, the system goes back into complete solvency. And that's a point nobody takes into account.

Roberts: So you’re saying the pressure will be taken off as we go forward. But you do say, and Tim Geithner was talking about this yesterday, Medicaid and Medicare are the real problems. They're expected to go broke in 2017. This is a real problem, is it not?

Weiner: That is the real problem. Social Security is solvent for at least 30 years and one third of the cost of the Iraq war or one third of the tax cuts; even then in the worst case scenario would solve it. Let’s worry about that in thirty years. As Nancy Pelosi said, first, do no harm. But Medicare is in dire straits and it can be solved with allowing imports. It can be solved with vying and buying and it can be solved with the national health care program that there seems to be a consensus toward right now.

Roberts: In 2008, we had 45 million people on Medicare. It cost $11,000 per year per person. In 2018, the Medicare trustees project that number to rise to 59 million as the baby-boomers retire. An average cost per person at $17,000 a year. Are we looking at higher taxes, co-pays, deductibles? Is health care for seniors going to cost a lot more than what it's costing right now?

Weiner: No, you're looking at cost controls in the health care system as the president has proposed and you're looking at building a volume through national health insurance that will be able to absorb these kinds of problems. We have to get a handle on health care or it's going to break us... Business, the hospitals, the doctors – there’s a building consensus for the first time to solve the problems that are not only in Medicare but in all of health insurance where you have 47 million people who don't have health insurance.

Filed under: Economy • Health
soundoff (133 Responses)
  1. alison

    hi i have sever OCD since i was little i wish my teachers would've recognized it when i was young so it wouldn't have gotten this severe..
    i had sever compulsions and was put on ssri for sleep i didn't tell the doc i had ocd then a week later i started having obsessions which is the is a very serious condiion that i have no control over what so ever..ppl can not make it is a chemical inbalance in my brain and there isn't much i can do about it..i hope for a cure and to receive ssi for my ocd....i feel bad i have to put my family thru this because they don't understand it and don't know why i am the way i am and depressed over it...i feel bad i have to have them pay for my meds,personall items and everything so ssi would be a good thing..having ocd ruin my life or have to work for my money i would choose to work but this ocd disability doesn't let me do that....

    i hope well for ocd sufferers and a cure...........

    March 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  2. joann

    to Rose that know the 5 that should not be receiving disability...turn them in...

    June 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm |
  3. karymellyn

    It upsets me that they talk so much about Social Security being in trouble when I already paid for mine in taxes. Yet, I still have to pay taxes on my check. So I'm paying taxes on my taxes. Where is our security going? That's the question.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:47 am |
  4. spirivaa

    What's next? Government controlled medical advice, another form of wishful thinking – wonder how big this donut will be – before you could get any sort of coverage what will the deductable be

    May 14, 2009 at 8:33 am |
  5. Bernice

    The Social Security program was one of the best programs created as to date. The govt. has abused this program for years by adding the disabled at a very young age to be funded by the money. Now it is a highly abused program! Heck! Our prez just gave $250.00 to each low income recipient across the US, to help them out! Help them out? There are TONS of YOUNG disabled people in our state!! TONS!!! Thet bragged on how our prez. gave them more money to "party" for the month and 2 people said they had the "time of thier lives"!! All on the Social Security system!! Anyone ever heard of OCD? That is the name of a mental disorder that is becoming widely used to aquire SSI for the young people to begin with. I know of a lady who went into a docs office and acted like she had a compulsive disorder and could not control it. She touched EVERYTHING in the docs office. The doc said she had OCD!!! She laughed as she finally got her SSI (unneeded). Others then went in and got the diagnosis of OCD. Not one has OCD! This is a joke, nothing but a joke! They have to STOP using the monies put into the program, by hard working Americans, to pay for others in which they should not be held RESPONSIBLE for! Stop the abuse done to the program by those who actually have NO medical problem to begin with. And, has it dawned on anyone yet that we give the young disabled people (or claim to be's) SSI, for they are disabled, RIGHT? Then how is it that they are allowed to make about $1000 a month over that ...through employment?? I thought they could not work to begin with. Food for thought.

    May 14, 2009 at 6:04 am |
  6. Christopher Orr

    Nice try Joe! Are you one of the executives of the interest groups against medical reform? You really have a way with numbers with your fancy calculus that brings 47,000,000 down to only 10,000,000. That is a lovely fiction or trompe l'oeil, worthy of the best art galleries in Paris (incidentally a city of 10,000,000), to trivialize the suffering (and exclusion) of a vast number of Americans almost the size of the whole population of France! It's like saying that Paris is France (pop. 56 million). Nice try!

    May 13, 2009 at 4:31 pm |
  7. Diana

    "Why was Social Security first enacted? Looking around my little town, there are so many young people who draw “an SSI check” ! They have never paid into the system nor have their parents because the parents are too young (and will not work living off the kids SSI check). What are these children being taught? Change the requirements back to the original intent! I get so frustrated seeing so many living off the government while my husband and I struggle to keep our family going, to keep paying into the system, to teach our children to stand on their own two feet and a work ethic, and to maintain a Christian attitude. Help yourself and help others but do not take advantage!"

    Just for the record, SSI and Social Security are two different programs. While the SSA handles SSI and Social Security claims, SSI is NOT funded by the Social Security trust fund. SSI is the welfare program (disability, blindness, and those who are 65 and older and have financial need are the only ones who qualify). Social Security is essentially an insurance program. You pay a monthly premium (FICA taxes) and you are insured to receive either retirement or disability benefits. This insurance premium you pay goes into the trust fund for your future needs.

    While it does seem scary that this fund may be "exhausted" (remember exhausted does not mean 0, it means 75%) in 30 years, keep in mind that there are very few companies (if any at all) that can project solvency 30 years into the future.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  8. J Jon Salt

    One can point the finger at one of many issues that is wrong, needs fixing, and should be done.The issue I bring up here, tho many years old, continues to baffle me. The Federal Government would not allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies regarding RX costs, in fact, expressly forbided it. This, to me, is big news. Why the media didn't pounce all over this I don't understand. We want to lower the cost of Medicare yet do nothing about this, something Canada's government has been doing for some time.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  9. Shelly

    We The People have voting rights and we should insist that The Peoples social program get fixed. Your vote is the most powerful voice when it comes to the way we the people want a better future, not only for us who are already struggling, but for our kids and grand kids. We don't want them living in fear of their futures, especially when we put so much trust and control into the hands of those who are not listening to the people but are listening to their special interest for their sole benefit. WE THE PEOPLE need to raise our voices LOUD, because they can't hear us.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  10. Dawn

    As someone once said: "The government's done such a great job managing social security, Medicare, and themselves, why not give them healthcare too".... oh wait...they haven't.

    Are we all crazy?

    You want to see how much healthcare will cost, just wait until it's "free."

    I agree with more Kool-Aid

    May 13, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  11. Sunny

    Medicare policy is full of ridiculous if anyone who wants to return their insurance with penality which is not related your different insurance from a job. It also not pay full for their medical bills even though pay every month. Where the money go!?

    May 13, 2009 at 1:20 pm |
  12. Robert the MD

    Real ways to save money

    1) have Judicial committees decide the payment in malpractice suits
    2) limit health care of people who are not US citizens.
    everyday, so many people come over from other countries and get care that is paid for you and I. Yes, every human being deserves care. However, there are things that are reasonable and things that are not. My fiancee is an ER doc in San Diego, and as a simple example-a child gets meningitis in Mexico and sees a doc there who demands 25 k for treatment. They can't afford it- guess what happens. The kid gets snuck over the border and shows up in the ER here brain dead. The family still demands everything to be done, and millions are spent on a brain dead kid who eventually dies of a hospital related complication. As a physician, I have no problems taking care of the kid or spending the millions. This is the current US health care system. . However, we as a country have to start rationing care somewhere. And, lines will be drawn at some point. People need to discuss this and start addressing it- We are no longer a bottomless pit of money, though the government may think so..

    May 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  13. Eric

    Why does no one talk about the real issue with SS and that is when a person gets married and is married for 10 years, the can get the SS benefits of that person no matter how long after they have been divorced. So if are married 4 times and then die, and your SS benefits are greater than any of your previous spouses others, they can cash in on yours.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  14. roscoe

    to James Stepp
    I grew up in Canada and moved to the USA for a number of reasons.
    You have it wrong. I knew people who have died waiting in line for surgery. I personally was diagnosed with cancer 13 years ago in the USA and had surgery the following day.
    This will change the USA like nothing you have ever seen in your lifetime.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  15. annie s

    I'm a former administrator for a multi-doctor medical practice, and I assure you that the major cost for MDs is the number of employees required to keep up with the different billing/reimbursement procedures among all of the private and managed medical insurances. Create a unified billing system and every physician I know would be happy to accept lowered Medicare reimbursement rates. In this case, the government isn't the problem – the private sector is.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Pete

    Fear mongering. That's all the Social Security "insovancy" issue has ever been. Conservatives have been trying to kill SSI since it's inception and this is the best they can do. They point to a shadowy boogie man 30 years in our future that is based only on speculation and massaged, worst-case numbers. SSI will be here 30 years from now and I expect Republicans will still be trying to kill it and pointing to a boogie man 30 years in our future but swearing that somehow their warnings are different than they were and this time there is a "real" danger.

    Medicare and healthcare are the real problem. More and more employers are offering less and less in terms of insurance benefits and costs keep rising. If you are foolish enough to believe healthcare isn't already rationed, I have claim rejection letters from my insurance company to prove you wrong. If you are even more foolish to believe that we all are not paying for healthcare for the uninsured then you really do not understand capitalism very well. Whenever a patient defaults on a medical bill, the provider absorbs that and it becomes part of their overhead calculation and affects your healthcare bill. You either pay it directly or you pay it through higher insurance premiums because when the insurance company is billed, the cost is ultimately passed on to the insured as a premium.

    Nationalized health insurance would just make it honest and open and apply the real costs correctly and eliminate the costs of collections.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  17. deb0155

    Are we all surprised? How much fraud is going on with Medicare and Social Security?! We hear it every day and every day our government does not look into these matters. I know people who have played "crazy or depressed", they own hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property in Miami, and fly back to Illinois to get their free medical care. All of this happened at the tender age of 52 years old because she did not want to work anymore. And, believe me folks, this woman is not crazy – she's smart like a fox and knows how to play the system as so many thousands of people do. And, we are paying for all of this. It is up to the system and the government to really look into each claim. And, I bet many of you don't realize that we the taxpayers are paying for heroin addicts to collect social security disability. What is wrong with this picture? Why are drug addicts being rewarded for bad behavior? They use the system inside and out – come out of the programs – and get hooked again. Drug addiction is not a disability – it is a BAD CHOICE and the taxpayers should not be paying for it!

    May 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  18. Concerned American

    Health care is the most divisive issue that this country faces. It affects every American; it does not discriminate between young or old, man or woman, even rich or poor. The housing and banking crisis pales in comparison. Our population demographic will continue to strain the health care sector and the policy decisions will be influenced by all "interested (influential)" groups (insurance companies, businesses, hospitals, pharmaceutical and device industries, etc.). Unfortunately, the relationship between a patient and their physician will deteriorate because of these outside influences. Quality will supposedly be used as a benchmark for success, but will not be easily framed or measured, let alone rewarded. Declining reimbursements for doctors and hospitals will decrease, prompting a decline in interest to the medical profession for physicians, only to delay health care delivery even further and will place needed hospitals in financial jeopardy. Technology will slow as there will be no monetary impetus to promote innovation. "Universal" health care will come at a price to our capitalist foundation and individualistic nature. Is America willing to pay for this?

    May 13, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  19. joe

    To those "worried" about Social Security, my suggestion is – have a glass of wine with dinner tonight . It'll help you relax. As Bob Weiner points out, and I hope you read his answers to John Roberts' questions carefully, Social Security is not the near-term issue. Medicare is – this is the challenge then First Lady Hillary Clinton attempted to present a solution to back in 1994, and it failed. Now just because it failed 15 years ago doesn't mean there isn't a solution – indeed there is. What I believe will happen is, a compromised solution will evolve, over many, many hours of alternative analysis, deliberation, and decision making. Will it be perfect? No. Will it solve 80% of the problem? Yes. As a start to the solution, this week we saw drug manufacturers, doctors, and insurance companies come together to discuss reducting healthcare costs with President Obama to offer up part of the solution. Don't forget, these individuals met with the President of the United States. It will be rather difficult to "reneg" on promises they made to the President. And this is just a start. In the weeks and months ahead, we will read about a plethora of potential solutions from which we need to pare down to those which serve the greater good for our people. As an aside, I offer this question to you and all who read this paragraph – what are you doing to reduce the cost of healthcare? Think you can't reduce the cost of healthcare all by your lonesome? I believe you can....a few things you can do; if you're over 40, do you get an annual physical? Do you know what your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels are? How would you describe your physical condition? Excellent? Good? Or not so good? What are you doing about it? Do you have an exercise program? What priority do you give it each day? What does your diet look like? If you're over fifty, as I am, do you take an 81 mg aspirin every day? Performing the above tasks (and several others) not only make you feel better for today, but will extend your longevity longer than you think! And if you need proof, his name is Jack LaLane – 94 years old, and still healthy enough to exercise each and every day. We can affect the health care system by ensuring our health is not taken for granted, and work hard at taking care of ourselves and our loved ones!

    May 13, 2009 at 1:02 pm |
  20. aliput5

    I have health insurance from the federal government. Additionallly I have social security part A only because I am disabled.

    If I a m hospitalized social security medicare part A is the primary coverage. Why should that happen?

    I pay for the health insurance from the federal government. That should be my primary coverage for inpatient. I can only wonder how much money is wasted with part A paying in not a private company.
    Smells like insurance lobbying

    May 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  21. MM

    I understand what everyone is saying and agree to some degree but you really cannot ask the higher earners to pay more because they can??? Just because they work hard and earn more doesn't mean you can take more taxes ( which is to high anyway) and ask them to pay for people A) don't work and B) are too lazy to get a job ( i'm referring to medicaid) if you did this there would more money available to Medicare. Also doctors are handcuffed becuase they don't get to really set any fees and procedures. Its dictated by the insurance (especially Medicare). Some ask for doctors to take paycuts well you have already seen doctors leave the profession because after years and years of sacrifice and hard work to get where they are, people want things for free and forget to realize they have to pay of loads of school debt, a practice, and actually make a living. Ask yourself if you would like the government telling you how to run your business. I have several family members who are doctors in several fields. Look the government is very wasteful why would we want them to take more control of our lives and choices in our health???

    May 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  22. Betty

    There are two ways to fix both the Social Security mess and the Medicare mess - and only two ways. Hike taxes/premiums so there's more revenue coming in, or cut benefits and kick Granny and Gramps to the curb. I suspect that will be the preferred choice of most Americans - after all, Granny and Gramps are old and won't live too much longer anyway. It seems the best thing we oldsters can do for the future of the country and our children is drop dead - suddenly (so there aren't any end-of-life medical expenses) - the day before our 65th birthday. Don't hold your breath, kiddies!

    May 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  23. Mark

    It's not very comforting to know that only Medicare is going in the tank. What in the world are our elected officials doing in Washington? Apparently, not a lot.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  24. flo

    it is very disturbing to hear medicare is in trouble .but i can see why i take care of my bedbound husband .i called hospice . the gave us 9 bathes a month and charged medicare 5800 of whech medicare paid 3800. there is no bath worth 422.00

    May 13, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  25. Diane

    Then someone better tell me how I can recoup all of the money I paid into these funds. I am 45 years old and I've had to watch these deductions be taken from my paycheck year after every year. And now, the government thinks it's acceptable to tell us there won't be anything left when we retire because it was used to pay for someone else's welfare (who probably never even worked a day). No way...we need to take a stand. I want back what I paid into it. If I'm not getting it back, then stop taking it out of my paycheck and pay me interest on all of the money that was "set aside" for me. If the government wants to act like a bank then buck up the interest on the principal.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:55 pm |
  26. Nancy

    How about a little looking in the mirror at how we have contributed to this problem? How about we quit eating junk food, smoking cigarattes and getting off the couch to actually move our bodies? Perhaps then the rate of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, etc., would go down and our medical costs may stabilize. No one wants to pay for this care. A recent study said that people don't want to pay more than $100 per month for medical coverage. For a family. Really? That won't even pay for the cost of most medications people take for toenail fungus, erectile dysfunction, sniffles from allergies, oily skin, etc. So many people have said to me "I WOULD go to the chiropractor, acupunturist, (insert the specialist here) , but my plan doesn't cover it" . I guess they really don't need it then, but they would sure do it if someone ELSE was paying. Face it, we all want it all. To have the right to go to the dr. for whatever ails us, take drugs regardless of cost just because we saw the ad and we want someone else to pay for it. Guess what – we are going to pay for it, even if the govt runs the plan. The Medicare system works fine, but not great. Ask anyone who really needs it. The govt is going to expand it to the rest of us? No thanks. I thought we lived in a free country. The Obama administration scares me to death – and thank goodness for that because I don't want to be sick once their plan is in place. I fear for my grandchildren. Once this huge ship gets moving, we won't be able to turn it back. Stop it from happening. Dont" sit on your laurels and let them do this to us. Our elected officials are supposed to be the carriers of OUR voice, not the decision makers in a vacuum.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:55 pm |
  27. LaVerne Sharp

    I have a medicare card which was sent to me when I went on social security. However, I'm still working and receiving company benefits. I've never used the medicare card–why do I need it?

    May 13, 2009 at 12:52 pm |
  28. Paul

    The "Money" currenty in the SS trust fund, are all government bonds

    It is like if I wrote a check to myself for $1,000,000 spending all my current money, and leave the check instead, and then go out and say that I have $1,000,000. WTF????

    In reality, social security has $0 saved, it has nothing, It has a bunch of IOU from the government itself. It survives because it collects more than it gives out. Once the table turns and SS starts paying more than it collects (Projected to be in 2017, but realistically probably much sooner), then it will start being subsidized right there and then. The goverment will have to issue more debt, or increase taxes, or decrease benefits to cover for the goverment bonds that mature inside the SS trust.

    What I'd give to get out of the mother of all ponzi schemes.
    medicare and medicaid are other gigantic ponzi schemes, that are forced on to us. At least with Maddof, you had the option of "investing" with him, here they put you in jail if you don't participate in the scheme.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  29. Mamanomia

    Going back to the post about self responsiblity and planning ahead...Go right ahead a do it..but, plan on another smash like we have had in the pocket ...with 0% interest on any savings and heaven forbid we had invested...At 69 we do not have time to we do what we can but, we don't worry about older age because we can't afford that thought.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm |
  30. Joe

    I wish someone would get to the real number of uninsured. In my calculation, it's nowhere near the 45-50 million that keeps getting thrown around. It's more like 10 million. Definitions are important, people. Here's how:

    Let's take 45 million. Is that 45 million people or Americans? Big difference, but both used by lazy reporting.

    If you take 45 million people, you need to take off 10-20 million illegals (I think most agree that Americans would not want to pay to cover). Let's use the lower number. Now we have 35 million AMERICANS.

    Of the 35 million Americans, about 9-10 million are people how choose to be uninsured (usually the young, college-age type of people). Now we have 25 million Americans.

    From the 25 million Americans, about 10-15 million people are uninsurd for a short time throughout any given year (through changing jobs or insurance companies and the like).

    So, now you have anywhere from 10-15 million Americans uninsured. Still a lot, per say, but not 45-50 million (meaning 15% of the population). More like 3% of the population.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm |
  31. Jason

    Well – I am an Internist and we DO NOT make enough to cover the office costs. Medicaid/Medicare used to give the lowest payments 10 years ago AND since their payments have remained same. Now take this – nowdays medicare has better payments than most of the insurance companies.

    Combine this with the fact that internists have the LOWEST payments when compared to any other specialty. Why should a Cardiologist get paid 300 $ for spending 10 minutes with a patient where as an internist gets paid 40 $ for spending over an hour with the patient? On top of that his/her recommendations are constantly changed/challanged/manipulated to ensure the insurance companies/HMO make profit. They systematically make the physician jump through multiple hoops to get the care their patient needs untill the physician is worn out. This is EXCATELY what happens.

    I don't claim to have a solution but I would think that an immediate solution would be to generate more income by lowering payments to specialists and redirecting that income to internists. This would keep young physicians interested in becoming internists.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm |
  32. Dan

    We have 47 million uninsured. How many would that be were it not for Medicare or the VA?

    May 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm |
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