More Than $1 Million per Taxpayer Owed – and Climbing

It seemed tragic back in October 1981 when the federal debt reached $1 trillion. How would we ever pay back $1 trillion?

The real tragedy, though, is what’s happened since then

In early December, the federal debt is expected to exceed $20 trillion. More troubling, though, other unfunded U.S. government debt obligations now total $107 trillion, according to the U.S. Debt Clock.

The cost of unfunded liabilities is difficult to estimate. Unknowns such as future interest rates, inflation, population growth and mortality rates must all be considered, so estimates range from around $80 trillion to more than $200 trillion. These unfunded liabilities come from programs we’re written about in recent weeks – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and government pensions.

Economics professor Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan, CEO of Freedom Trust, noted recently in U.S. News & World Report that total U.S. government debt exceeds even the approximately $120 trillion in debt you get by adding the federal debt to the cost of unfunded liabilities. They estimate the total at $135 trillion.

“U.S. state and local governments officially owe $3 trillion and have another $5 trillion in unfunded liabilities themselves,” according to U.S. News & World Report. “Federal agencies and government sponsored enterprises owe another $8 trillion, which is not included in the federal government’s numbers.”

To paraphrase the late Senator Everett Dirksen, a trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

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Medicare Is Already Broke

Last week we noted that the Social Security system is going broke. Medicare, though, which provides for the health of America’s seniors is already broke.

With 77 million baby boomers retiring, and a $716 billion reduction in future funding of Medicare thanks to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Medicare may be in an even more precarious financial condition than the Social Security system.

Trustees for the Social Security system are also trustees for Medicare and wrote in their recently released annual report that Medicare Part A, which helps pay for hospital care, home-health services following hospital stays, skilled nursing and hospice care for the aged and disabled “fails the test of short-range financial adequacy, as its trust fund ratio is already below 100% of annual costs, and is expected to stay about unchanged to 2021 before declining in a continuous fashion until reserve depletion in 2029.”

Medicare Part B, which pays for physician, outpatient hospital, home health and other services, and Part D, which subsidizes drug coverage, are financed from premiums and general revenues, so they are currently adequately funded, but their costs are expected to rise steadily. So higher taxes and higher premiums will be needed to support them.

The federal government spent $595 billion on Medicare, in the 2016 fiscal year, but adding on the cost of premiums and other funds collected brings the total cost to $699 billion.

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