Obamacare is saving Medicare, says the White House.
No, really. The Medicare trustees issued their latest glum report on the health of the federal program and determined that the fund will be insolvent in 2026 - two years later than last year's estimtae.
The White House is crowing that Obamacare is the reason.
Today, the Medicare Trustees reported some good news for seniors and taxpayers: The Medicare program will be solvent through 2026, nearly a decade longer than projected at the time of passage of the Affordable Care Act. This is 2 years longer than projected last year. Their annual report also shows that the long run actuarial deficit in the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund - a measure of its long-term fiscal health - has been cut by more than 70 percent since enactment of the health care law. The long-run Medicare deficit has fallen from 3.88 percent of taxable payroll in the 2009 Trustees Report to 1.11 percent in this report.
The White House says that Medicare is "growing stronger" because of Obamacare. That's a relative term. When a patient rallies after being diagnosed as terminally ill, we don't generally ascribe much significance when the pulse gets a little stronger or blood pressure improves. The patient is still close to death.
And most of the improvement in Medicare's short term finances are the direct result of more people working and paying into the system, not from any structural savings made by passage of Obamacare. In fact, the panel empowered to make those savings - the Independent Payment Advisory Board - hasn't even been created yet.
Yet 3 years after the ACA's enactment, the IPAB still has no members. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius described "active discussions" about IPAB nominees in February 2012 and said last month that the administration was "consulting" Congress regarding "potential members." But President Obama has not yet nominated anyone for the IPAB, and Republican congressional leaders have refused to provide any recommendations for appointees. Even if Democrats settle on nominees, the controversy surrounding the IPAB will make their Senate confirmations, which are subject to filibuster, extraordinarily difficult. Presidents historically have made appointments when the Senate is in recess, and President Obama conceivably could fill some IPAB slots in this manner. But recess appointments are temporary, lasting only until the end of the next congressional session. Moreover, in January 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a ruling severely restricting the President's constitutional authority to make such appointments. The Obama administration is appealing that decision to the Supreme Court; meanwhile, in May, another federal appeals court echoed the D.C. Circuit's narrow interpretation of recess-appointment power. Even if the legal obstacles are circumvented, relying on recess appointments could undermine the IPAB's theoretically nonpartisan character. However, if no members are appointed, the power to recommend changes to Medicare when spending targets are exceeded does not disappear: it reverts to the secretary of health and human services.
In short, Medicare is still dying and failure to do anything to address its short and long term problems only makes the job more difficult the longer we wait.