“The cost of Medicare is a good place to begin. At its start, in 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion. The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost only about $ 12 billion by 1990 (a figure that included an allowance for inflation). This was a supposedly “conservative” estimate. But in 1990 Medicare actually cost $107 billion.
This is a mere bagatelle compared with “conservative” projections for the next generation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Medicare will cost $223 billion by 1997. Constance Homer, deputy secretary of Health and Human Services, warns that “by the year 2003, at the current rates, we will be spending more on Medicare than we do on Social Security.”
The news gets even worse for the “out years” after that. The Health Care Finance Administration has given up making long-range projections of budget outlays of Medicare. Instead, HCFA makes calculations about the “actuarial balance” of the program–how much of the nation’s payroll will be required to pay for the program.
The 1992 annual report of the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which pays for the hospital-insurance portion of Medicare, warns that the Medicare program “is severely out of financial balance” and could go bust as soon as the year 2000. The report says expenditures from the hospital fund represented 1.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 1991 and will grow to 4.7 percent by 2065. To cover the cost, the Medicare payroll-tax rate will have to more than quadruple, from the current rate of 2.9 percent to 13.79 percent.
The full narrative of Medicare’s enactment in 1965, a classic tale of legislative and interest-group infighting, is too long to recount in detail here. Proposals for Medicare-style programs began surfacing in Congress during World War 11 but didn’t have a serious prospect of passage until the Kennedy administration.”