Pandemic could spur Medicare trust fund depletion by 2022, former VA chief says

The coronavirus pandemic could spur the depletion of the Medicare Part A trust fund as early as 2022, according to former Veteran Affairs chief David Shulkin, MD.

Other budget experts have also warned that the trust fund could run out of money sooner than projected, according to NPR.

Medicare trustees said in April that the Part A trust fund, which pays for hospital inpatient care, would start to run out of money by 2026, but that projection didn't include the hit from the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Given the uncertainty associated with these impacts, the trustees believe that it is not possible to adjust the estimates accurately at this time," the April report said, according to NPR. 

Now, budget experts are saying the trust fund may run out sooner, with estimates placing the depletion between 2022 and 2024. Reasons cited for the new projections include a growing Medicare population, fewer payroll taxes coming into the fund with a record number of Americans unemployed, and Congress dipping into Medicare's reserves to help fund COVID-19 relief. 

"I think we have a real, impending healthcare crisis," Dr. Shulkin, now a senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, told NPR. 

Dr. Shulkin was VA secretary under former President Barack Obama for two years and led the department for a year under President Donald Trump.

According to projections from Dr. Shulkin, the trust fund could become insolvent as early as 2022 or 2023. 

Other financial budget experts agree the Medicare part A trust fund insolvency date is getting closer due to the coronavirus pandemic, but not as close as two years away. 

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group of budget experts focused on fiscal policy, projects that the Part A trust fund will stop being able to pay its bills starting in late 2023 or early 2024.

"We're still very close," said Marc Goldwein, the committee's senior vice president.

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