A greater-than-expected slowdown in health spending has helped buy Medicare more time before it will no longer be able to pay out 100 percent of benefits. But the program is still facing significant funding shortfalls.
A report released Friday by the trustees of Medicare and Social Security projects the magnitude of those shortfalls over the near- and long-term.
Medicare Part A, which covers hospital costs for seniors, is financed primarily by payroll taxes paid by workers. But since 2008 those revenues haven't kept pace with the program's costs. The federal government has made up the difference by both paying interest on assets in the Medicare trust fund and redeeming the assets themselves.
But that Medicare trust fund will be exhausted by 2026, the trustees estimated. Last year, the report put the date of insolvency at 2024.
If nothing is done, the revenue coming into Medicare Part A will be able to cover just 87 percent of expected costs in 2033. By 2050 and beyond, it will only cover 70 percent.
Medicare Part B, which covers visits to the doctor, and Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drug costs, are financed primarily through premiums paid by seniors and by general federal revenue. Neither has a trust fund. And as program costs have risen, premiums have covered a smaller and smaller share. Consequently, general revenue today covers roughly 75 percent of costs.
In terms of Social Security, the trustees estimate the trust fund exhaustion date will be 2033, the same as their estimate last year. At that point the program will be able to pay three-quarters of promised benefits through 2087.
Medtronic is a maker of medical devices, specializing in cardiovascular products like pacemakers, valve replacements, and various items to help repair problems in the circulatory system. But Medtronic also serves a number of other areas, including ways to treat spinal problems, diabetes and chronic pain.
One downside for investors is the fact that beginning this year, Medtronic has to pay a surtax on medical-device revenue, which was imposed to help pay for the health care reform law. Even with the tax sapping its profits, though, Medtronic will benefit from the needs of more patients needing treatment for heart-related illnesses and other ailments using its devices.
This iconic drugstore chain has been around for decades, paying ever-higher dividends to shareholders. As prescription drug use grows, Walgreen stands to have more traffic in its stores, and that in turn should drive more sales of the unrelated retail goods that the company stocks on its store shelves.
In addition to benefiting from older Americans, Walgreen has made a big push recently for international growth. Aging populations in economies around the world represent a great opportunity for Walgreen to expand beyond its domestic stronghold.
MetLife is one of the biggest providers of life insurance in the country. Insurers have gone through hard times in recent years, as poor investment returns and high payouts on certain types of insurance left them reeling from the financial crisis five years ago.
But for investors, MetLife's moves have made it a stronger stock. It's decision to stop offering long-term-care insurance has been tough on older Americans seeking protection from high health care costs, but its core insurance business benefits from the longer lifespans of an aging population. With some favorable products tailored to retirees, MetLife stands to make big strides forward in the years to come.
The scope of Johnson & Johnson's business is wider than many people realize. In addition to its well-known consumer brands like Band-Aid, J&J also has sizable pharmaceutical and medical-device arms. Though many of its rivals have broken themselves up into smaller businesses to let the individual parts focus on their respective specialties, Johnson & Johnson still sees value in its conglomerate status.
Unfortunately, J&J has had problems with its hip replacement products, which led to recalls of certain devices. But the company has overcome similar short-term problems in the past. Given the size of J&J's orthopedics business, which by itself dwarfs many of the companies that specialize in orthopedic devices, Johnson & Johnson still stands to gain from rising demand once it addresses any safety concerns.
Omega Healthcare is a real estate investment trust that specializes in owning and operating health-care-related properties, with an emphasis on skilled nursing, assisted living, independent living, and rehabilitation facilities. A growing pool of retirees seeking the community environment that these facilities offer has led to higher demand in recent years, and those trends are only likely to continue as these communities benefit from the network effect of having older peers recommend them to (relatively) younger prospects.
For investors, the real estate investment trust framework ensures a steady stream of income for your portfolio. On that score, Omega's dividend yield of 6 percent stands out as particularly attractive, topping several other similar health care REITs.