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Medicare's hospital trust fund is projected to be depleted by 2026. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Medicare won't be able to fully pay for patients' hospital bills by 2026, a similar forecast from last year, according to the latest report from Medicare's trustees.

The bottom line: The coronavirus pandemic both drastically lowered payroll taxes that fund Medicare and stymied care that Medicare pays for. But the virus "is not expected to have a large effect on the financial status of the trust funds after 2024," the trustees said.

The big picture: The pandemic has created a tug-and-pull situation in health care, and the Medicare trustees' report epitomizes it.

  • The surge in layoffs lowered payroll taxes, which fund Medicare, and the federal government had to shoulder expenses tied to COVID-19 hospitalizations, tests and vaccines for Medicare enrollees.
  • However, "spending for non-COVID care declined significantly," the trustees wrote.
  • Like the broader industry, deferral of care more than offset COVID-19 expenses. And it's why Medicare's solvency date for hospital bills didn't change.

What to watch: Medicare's private insurance option and a pricey new drug will factor heavily into the program's finances.

  • Medicare Advantage enrollment is projected to rise drastically faster than the trustees anticipated last year. That could suck a lot more money from the hospital trust fund since Medicare Advantage plans cost more than traditional Medicare.
  • All projections did not include Aduhelm, the controversial Alzheimer's drug that Medicare is still evaluating for coverage. With a list price of $56,000 per year on average, Aduhelm could blow up Medicare's financing structure.

Go deeper

18 hours ago - Health

Maine health care staff won't get unemployment benefits if they refuse vaccine

A pharmacy technicinan specialist at Maine Medical Center in South Portland, Maine. Photo: Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Maine health care workers who face firing for defying COVID vaccine requirements will not be eligible to receive unemployment benefits, AP reports.

Why it matters: The notice comes as Maine's hospitals suffer labor shortages partly related to the state's vaccine mandate. One of the state's biggest hospitals has had to turn away trauma and pediatric patients and shutter an entire department, according to a local CBS affiliate.

Updated Oct 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Moderna has become the world's vaccine boogeyman — Booster shots overtake first doses in the U.S. — Pfizer to vaccinate entire Brazilian city as part of study.
  2. Health: New cases down, but the West is at risk — Low vaccination rates exacerbate America's caregiving crisis — COVID is here to stay. So what does "victory" look like?
  3. Politics: NHL announces all but four players have been vaccinated — WHO names new advisory group on COVID origins — Biden admin warns Moderna to "step up" global vaccine supply.
  4. Education: LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations amid staffing shortage — Parent sues Wisconsin school district after child tests positive — Arizona can't use aid for anti-mask education grants, Treasury says.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Oct 14, 2021 - Health

FDA panel unanimously endorses Moderna boosters for certain populations

A pharmacist prepares to give a COVID-19 booster vaccination. Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images

Members of the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine expert panel on Thursday endorsed boosters for Moderna recipients who are at high risk of severe COVID-19, occupational exposure to COVID-19 or are 65 years and older.

Why it matters: The unanimous decision mirrors the FDA conditions for those who qualify for a Pfizer booster.