Every year, Medicare trustees deliver an impenetrable report that answers a single headline-worthy question: How soon will Medicare run out of money?
Last year, the trustees estimated that one part of Medicare would be insolvent alarmingly soon — 2017. But then came the new health care law, sold to Americans as a way to reduce costs and shore up Medicare.
The trustees released a new report last week that said — ta-da! — Medicare had 12 more years to live.
That is, the Medicare hospital trust fund would run out of money in 2029 instead of 2017. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner declared that "the outlook for Medicare has improved substantially because of program changes" made by the new law.
But hold on. Democrats weren't straight with Americans about the costs of health care reform before the law passed. They used a lot of accounting tricks to make it look less expensive than it really will be. And they're still fuzzing over facts.
One gimmick: double count the savings. The Democrats crow that the new law wrings $575 billion from Medicare projected costs, via savings and tax increases, to extend the program's solvency. But that money isn't going directly to Medicare's coffers. Congress is plowing it into the expansion of benefits under the new health care law.
See that asterisk in the headline above? We put that there because the trustees' report comes with a surprise twist from Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster. In a capsule, he says: Never mind.