Last week, House Democrats introduced legislation that would add dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare. Lawmakers want to include the measure in a massive, multitrillion-dollar budget reconciliation package later this year.
Increasing benefits for today’s Medicare beneficiaries could eliminate them for tomorrow’s. Medicare can barely afford to provide its current level of coverage. Tacking on another suite of expensive benefits could jeopardize the program’s financial future. More than 61 million people are currently enrolled in Medicare. That represents a more than 30% increase over the past decade. The number of beneficiaries will increase to 75 million by 2028, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
As a result, the program is projected to experience some of the fastest spending growth among health payers, CMS says.
Thanks to these mounting costs, Medicare is running out of money. According to a September report from the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare’s main Part A hospital insurance trust fund will be insolvent by 2024. To shore up the fund for another 25 years, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission says that lawmakers would need to cut spending by 17%.
Adding benefits to the program would do the opposite. Covering hearing aids, eyeglasses, emergency dental care, and an array of other services is expected to cost more than $350 billion over a decade. A lot of money, then.
Medicare is turning 56 at the end of the month. If Democrats have their way, the program will be bankrupt by its 60th birthday — and taxpayers will have to shell out even more to bail it out.
Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.