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Threat to Medicare Funds Is Nothing New

Here’s something to keep in mind as congressional lawmakers wail about yesterday’s news that, at the current rate of spending, Medicare’s hospital fund won’t be able to pay all its bills just eight years from now: We’ve seen worse — and it wasn’t too long ago.

In fact, in both 1993 and 1995 the hospital fund was just six years away from insolvency, according to a fascinating historical perspective compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation yesterday. In 1997, the news was even more bleak, with the fund projected to go bust just four years later. In each instance, Congress stepped in to tweak the program at the edges, bolstering the coffers a bit and providing a few more years of life to the fund.

This is by no means justification for policymakers to continue punting the problem, at intervals, down the road. (Indeed, some of the most powerful policymakers in Washington, beginning with President Obama, are ready to dismiss the petty reforms this year in favor of a complete overhaul of the nation’s health care system.) But it does remind us that the sky’s not falling.

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