GAO Head Says Public Unaware of Problems With Unfunded Benefits
David Walker, chief of the General Accounting Office, said on Thursday in an interview that the public and lawmakers "remain oblivious to the serious financial crunch that is looming with the retirement of the baby boomers," the Washington Times reports. Walker said that the federal government has an estimated $43 trillion in unfunded Medicare, Social Security and other retirement benefits promised to baby boomers. "The public has no idea how big the problem is," Walker said, adding that lawmakers also "really don't understand the magnitude of the problem." According to Walker, the government should inform the public that the trillions of dollars they have paid into the Medicare and Social Security trust funds have "already been spent by Congress and will not be available" to help address future federal budget problems, the Times reports. He added, "They are not trust funds. They are accounting devices." Walker said that "mounting deficits must be tackled on all fronts," and he recommended budget reductions for programs currently "getting a pass" -- such as homeland security, defense and tax preferences for health care, the Times reports. In addition, Walker said that "the tax system is a nightmare" and that lawmakers should restructure government health benefits to help control the cost of medical care. "We ultimately have to engage in comprehensive health care reform" that eliminates government subsides for all but basic medical care because the current system is "fundamentally broken," Walker said. "Escalating health costs, which have grown at double-digit rates in recent years, not only have become a big headache for the government, but they are a major reason that employers have been slow to hire new workers and are quick to outsource jobs to countries where health care costs are lower," he added (Hill, Washington Times, 4/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.