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Individualizing Medicare

By: Deborah J. Chollet
Published: May 1999
Medicare Brief No. 3 ~ May 1999

Summary: Despite the enactment of significant changes to the Medicare program in 1997, Medicare's Hospital Insurance trust fund is projected to be exhausted just as the baby boom enters retirement. To address Medicare's financial difficulties, a number of reform proposals have been offered, including several to individualize Medicare financing and benefits. These proposals would attempt to increase Medicare revenues and reduce Medicare expenditures by having individuals bear risk - investment market risk before retirement and insurance market risk after retirement.

Many fundamental aspects of the proposals have yet to be worked out, including how to guarantee a baseline level of saving for health insurance after retirement, how retirees might finance unanticipated health insurance price increases after retirement, the potential implications for Medicaid of inadequate individual saving, and whether the administrative cost of making the system fair and adequate ultimately would eliminate any rate-of-return advantages from allowing workers to invest their Medicare contributions in corporate stocks and bonds.