Medicare trust fund losses mount Program's health may be worse than believed


WASHINGTON -- Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund lost $4.2 billion in the first half of the current fiscal year, according to new government data, which suggest that the financial condition of the program is worse than administration officials projected last year.

The trust fund, which pays hospital bills for the elderly and disabled, lost money last year for the first time since 1972. But the loss for all of last year was only $35.7 million.

In the first half of the current fiscal year, from October 1995 through March of this year, the trust fund spent $60.5 billion and took in $56.3 billion, the Treasury said.

There is little chance that the trust fund will actually run out of money. It still contains more than $120 billion, and Congress would almost surely act to rescue the program before it ran out of funds. But the new data provide fresh evidence that, after months of acrimonious debate between the White House and Congress, Medicare remains a budget problem of growing proportions.

Chris Jennings, a special assistant to President Clinton for health policy, said yesterday that the new numbers were not surprising. "They indicate the need to move forward, balance the budget and enact some changes in Medicare that will strengthen the trust fund," he said.

In a letter to Congress last week, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin suggested that Congress and the administration resume discussions to reach an agreement on Medicare and the budget.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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