WASHINGTON -- Underscoring the urgency of the current push in Washington to rein in skyrocketing health care costs, Medicare's trustees warned Tuesday that the program's biggest fund would run out of money in just eight years.
The prediction - issued in an annual report on Medicare and Social Security finances - offered the bleakest assessment of Medicare's future in years and reflects growing concern among policy experts that the nation's health care spending is unsustainable.
"The Medicare trustees' report makes clear that today there is no more important long-term fiscal policy measure than gaining control of the growth of Medicare costs by delivering health care services more efficiently," Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said. His comment echoed calls that federal officials from both parties have been making for decades.
Medicare, now in its fifth decade, provides health insurance to about 45 million, mostly senior, citizens.
But the impending eligibility of baby boomers, who are projected to start joining Medicare in 2011, and the rise in health care costs have heightened concerns in recent years about the program's long-term viability.
The current economic downturn, which eliminated millions of jobs, has further eroded Medicare. Social Security and Medicare are financed primarily by taxes evenly divided between workers and employers that amount to 15.3 percent of wages.
The Social Security trust fund, however, is not expected to run out of money until 2037, the trustees reported.
Tuesday, those pushing to overhaul the nation's health care system, including senior administration officials, pointed to the Medicare news to redouble their argument.
AARP Executive Vice President John Rother called the report a "clarion call for health care reform."
President Barack Obama and groups such as the AARP are pushing for cuts in how much the federal government pays private insurers who contract to provide Medicare insurance for seniors. They are also pushing for faster approval of generic drugs.