Six Entitlement Fixes to Steer Away From Fiscal Cliff

fiscalcliff

The Heritage Foundation today released a video highlighting how the lack of entitlement reform is pushing us toward a fiscal cliff.

 

They offer six entitlement reform fixes that are bipartisan in nature which would help us steer away from the fiscal cliff. It would just require presidential leadership:

  1. Raise the Social Security eligibility age to match increases in longevity. Originally set at 65, the normal eligibility age is rising two months every year until 2022, when it will reach 67. According to the Social Security actuaries, continuing to increase the eligibility age to 69 by the year 2034 and allowing it to rise more slowly thereafter to reflect gains in longevity could go a long way toward reducing Social Security’s funding shortfall. While this would not reduce today’s budget deficit, it would strengthen Social Security’s finances and dissipate far more important long-term budget pressures.
  2. Correct the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The annual COLA benefit adjustment is determined today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI). However, the CPI, an antiquated measure, generally overstates inflation, meaning that benefits are increased a bit too much each year to offset inflation. The effect on benefits in a given year of switching to a more accurate inflation measure is minute, but Social Security spans generations. Again, according to the Social Security actuaries, using a more modern inflation measure would substantially reduce Social Security’s shortfall over time.
  3. Raise the Medicare eligibility age to agree with Social Security. Medicare has an eligibility age problem, but unlike Social Security, the Medicare eligibility age remains stuck at 65. An obvious solution is to wait five years and then slowly raise the eligibility age to align eventually with the Social Security eligibility age. While the short-term budgetary savings would be negligible, the long-term savings in Medicare would be profound.
  4. Reduce the Medicare subsidy for upper-income beneficiaries. In 2012, the average Medicare beneficiary received a subsidy of about $5,000. The subsidy is the per capita amount of Treasury revenue that is used to fill the financial hole arising each year because Medicare’s premiums are inadequate, in conjunction with its other revenue sources, to cover Medicare’s total costs. Subsidizing Medicare benefits for low-income seniors—and perhaps for some middle-income seniors—makes sense, but upper-income seniors do not need and should not receive a $5,000 subsidy to buy Medicare health insurance. The Medicare subsidy was first cut for the wealthiest seniors in legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2004 by income-relating premiums so that higher-income beneficiaries pay a higher share of their Medicare cost. It was cut further in Obamacare, and President Obama proposed to pare it back still further in his budget proposals of February 2012 with still-higher premiums for upper-income beneficiaries.  Medicare has many programmatic problems that demand attention, and the sooner the better, but the immediate fiscal problem is straightforward: It is the subsidy. The total cost of the Medicare subsidy—about $230 billion in 2012—will soar over time as health care costs rise and the baby boomers retire. Paring back the subsidy for well-to-do retirees is an obvious step toward reducing the budget deficit today and shoring up Medicare for the long run.
  5. Phase out Social Security benefits for upper-income retirees. Everyone who has ever paid into Social Security is entitled to the benefits prescribed by law. However, as a nation, we need to ask whether today’s working families should pay payroll taxes so that upper-income retirees can continue to receive their checks. We need to ask why phasing out the Medicare subsidy to upper-income seniors while continuing to send them their full Social Security check would make sense. In short, Social Security should be social insurance against poverty rather than a government-run pension scheme.  Some might charge that this is redistributionism, but would anyone suggest that millionaires should receive food stamps? Food stamps and other welfare programs are specifically intended to operate as part of the social safety net, yet their existence constitutes a form of redistributionism that most Americans accept. Social Security (and Medicare) should become real insurance against poverty, meaning that only those seniors who need help should receive help. On the other hand, if Social Security remains a universal government-run pension, then it remains a vastly larger program built on an entirely different redistributionist principle: redistribution from workers to retirees, including the wealthy.
  6. Consolidate Medicare’s elements and collect a single higher premium. Medicare is actually three distinct components, referred to generally as Parts A, B, and D, reflecting the fact that Medicare was built up over many years. This antiquated structure is confusing and inefficient. An obvious reform is to consolidate the three distinct parts into a unified Medicare program. Medicare Parts B and D each require beneficiaries to pay a premium covering 25 percent of the cost of the programs. As the Medicare Parts are consolidated, the premium should be consolidated as well and then raised to 35 percent of the relevant costs.

Read the whole report here.

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