There's been a lot of scaremongering lately about the future of the Medicare program. Is Medicare really going broke? How serious is the Medicare "crisis?"
Here are some facts to help you decide.
First, you should understand that this is all a bit like the boy who keeps crying "wolf:" The Medicare trust fund - which covers hospitalization and is financed by the Medicare payroll taxes we all pay during our working years - previously was predicted to run short of funds in 1972. And in 1993. And in 2003.
It never did go broke, of course, because each time, Congress made small adjustments to the program to resolve the problem.
Now, the latest report from the Medicare trustees has projected that the trust fund will run short in 2024. So yes, there is reason for concern about Medicare's future but no cause for panic.
This report is like the maintenance reminder light on your dashboard, not a red alarm bell. Just because you need to change the oil in your car, doesn't mean you need to junk it.
Similarly, this new projection doesn't require a radical transformation of Medicare. Once again, Congress could make small adjustments that would extend the life of the program - adjustments like a modest increase in the payroll tax, for example. All they need is the political will.
Second, you may have heard the news that the House of Representatives passed a budget plan that would transform Medicare into a voucher program (supporters call it "premium support").
Under the House plan, everyone born after 1957 would no longer get a guaranteed set of Medicare benefits. Instead, they'd get a voucher to buy insurance. If that voucher was insufficient to buy good coverage, they would have to pay the difference out of their own pockets.
At the same time, the House-passed budget would repeal the health care law, thereby making prescription drugs and preventive care more expensive for today's seniors.
And, because the health care law extended the life of the Medicare trust fund from 2017 to the mid-2020s, Medicare's finances actually would be worse off, not better.
But whatever you think of this proposal, it's unlikely to become law any time soon.
It probably couldn't get enough votes to pass in the Senate and, if it did, President Obama would certainly veto it.
Third, the people who tell you we have to destroy Medicare in order to save it are people who have never supported the program.
The proposal they are pushing, whether they admit it's a voucher or insist on calling it "premium support," is a way to put an end to the Medicare program as we have known and depended on. The voucher was brought up last year, too - and it was defeated last year.
There's no question we can, and should, make Medicare fiscally stronger for today's seniors and future generations.
But that requires an honest conversation about priorities - and an end to fearmongering, to scaring seniors simply to promote a radical ideological agenda.
Pollack is executive director of Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers.