For all those who think that our deficit is caused by a dearth of revenue, consider this thought experiment. In 2012, the federal government will spend $3.56 trillion. Last week’s Powerball jackpot was a reported $587.5 million, the largest winning Powerball payout ever. In order to finance current spending, the federal government would have to hit that jackpot 6,570 times.
Back in August, Cato adjunct scholar Veronique de Rugy expressed concern about Republican campaign rhetoric on Medicare. As Republicans tell it, they want to “protect” and “strengthen” Medicare, whereas President Obama wants to “cut” and “weaken” it. Veronique thinks that the GOP’s “Mediscare” campaign could end up backfiring by making it harder to reform Medicare if Republicans succeed in taking control of Washington.
Government subsidies often produce unintended consequences. The latest example comes from the New York Times, which reports that federal subsidizes to encourage doctors and hospitals to use electronic billing and recording records are leading to larger Medicare bills. That means that taxpayers are taking a double hit even though policymakers claimed that electronic record-keeping would make health care delivery more efficient, and thus less costly.
In the Obama campaign's attack on the Romney-Ryan proposal to “voucherize” Medicare, one accusation is that the plan would force seniors to pay more of their healthcare costs: about $6,400 more per beneficiary, according to a recent TV ad known as “Facts.” Regardless of the “facts” in the ad, this attack takes as a given that any such outcome is undesirable.
Let's try to put the ongoing debate over the future of Medicare into a little bit of context. Last year, Americans paid $274 billion in Medicare taxes and premiums. At the same time, the program paid out $564 billion in benefits. That amounts to a shortfall of roughly $290 billion. Looking into the future, even the most optimistic estimate by the program's trustees puts Medicare's future unfunded liabilities at more than $38.6 trillion. More realistic projections suggest the shortfall could easily top $90 trillion.
The Washington Post reports that a doctor in Texas bilked Medicare and Medicaid out of $375 million. That’s a lot of money, but improper payments represent somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of total spending on these two health programs. Thus, more than $100 billion of taxpayer funds could be going down the drain each year.