Reid: ‘Not in Favor of Changing Medicare’ Despite Its $24.6 Trillion Shortfall

By Matt Cover | May 26, 2011 | 11:33 AM EDT

( – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was not willing to change Medicare despite the fact that the program has an estimated $24.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities--the amount of money the government is obligated to pay, above what it gets in tax revenue, to honor future benefits under the Medicare program.

At Reid’s weekly press conference on Tuesday, asked the senator, “According to the Medicare trustees, Medicare’s got $24.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities – how many of those trillions in unfunded liabilities are you willing to cut to bring the program into solvency?

Reid said, “As we speak, as I indicated what we did with the health care bill I think that was a tremendous step in the right direction, a half-a-trillion dollars -- but we are not, in all the programs that we’re talking about, we’re not in favor of changing Medicare as we know it.”

Medicare’s actuaries project $24.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities through 2085.

Reid forswore changing “Medicare as we know it,” saying that Congress must keep the promises it made to future retirees.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“We have a responsibility to take care of our senior citizens,” Reid said. “I’ve told some of you this before and I’ll repeat it again; my first elected job was on a large hospital district in the state of Nevada. When I was elected to that body we had no Medicare, and so 40 percent or more of the people who came into that hospital who were seniors had to have somebody sign for their bill.”

“And if they did not pay it, we would go after them [with] the collection department,” he said. “While I was on that board, Medicare came into being and Medicare, while an imperfect plan, now allows people who are seniors who are sick to go into a hospital. That’s what it’s all about.”

Medicare is projected to owe $24.6 trillion more than it will collect in taxes over the 2011-2085 time period, meaning that it will need $24.6 trillion in cash infusions from the Treasury Department. The Treasury will have to raise that cash through higher taxes, higher debt, or both.