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Prognosis Negative Again for Medicare

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Prognosis Negative Again for Medicare

Health Care

Prognosis Negative Again for Medicare

Prognosis Negative Again for Medicare

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Read the Report

Read the press release from the Department of Health and Human Services with a link to the full report.

In announcing the release of the analysis of Medicare's fiscal health, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt described a sense of deja vu:

"That's the way spring is in Washington," said Leavitt, a member of the Medicare trustees. "We see the cherry blossoms and hear Medicare warnings. The cherry blossoms go away, and nothing happens with Medicare."

Every year the only mystery in the annual trustees' report is the exact number of years Medicare has before it's projected to go into the red. This year the trustees estimate that there are 11 years of life left for the part of Medicare that covers hospital bills. Sometimes it's more. Sometimes it's less.

"It's been worse," says economist and former Medicare trustee Marilyn Moon. "We've gotten much closer, and we've always found a way to push that off."

In the past, the solution has been raising premiums, or limiting some services, or charging richer people more. Leavitt is pushing President Bush's plan for healing Medicare: malpractice reform, electronic health records, higher payments for richer people.

The problem, Moon says, is that health care in the U.S. is terribly expensive.

Moon says until the nation finds a way to bring more money into the system and hold medical costs down, Medicare will have to limp on as it has been, relying on patches that keep it going another few years.

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