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Deficit and Entitlement Education, at Little Cost

Christopher Hildebrand and Laura Hatalsky contributed to this post.

Medicare is complex. It’s difficult enough for those inside the Beltway to understand the nitty-gritty details of the massive program, let alone average Americans. How many people truly understand the relation between the payroll taxes they pay into Medicare Part A and the benefits they receive?

The idea behind the legislation is simple: supplement the annual Social Security statements that are already sent to all taxpayers and beneficiaries with information on Medicare. The details would outline each individuals’ previous and expected future contributions to Medicare, as well as his or her expected lifetime benefits. The cost to provide this information is incredibly low – little more than the small printing costs – but the educational return to American citizens is quite high.

Bills like the MedInfo Act are useful tools at a time when education and citizen awareness about major entitlement programs and the national debt is notably low, according to recent polls. To address this worrying trend, some Members of Congress and others are taking actions to promote a greater understanding of these important issues.

For example, the Taxpayer Receipt Act would give all taxpayers a “receipt” for their taxes, detailing how their taxpayer dollars were spent by program and section of the federal budget. Along the same lines, the Concord Coalition’s Fiscal Solutions Tour has been traveling around the country, giving expert speakers an opportunity to educate the American public on the debt problem and practical, promising solutions moving forward.

While bills like the MedInfo Act and the Taxpayer Receipt Act are promising steps forward – offering big educational rewards for little cost that both parties can and should embrace – let’s not forget that educating the public alone will not solve this problem. At the end of the day, only a bipartisan plan that addresses the main drivers of our debt – Medicare and Medicaid – and reforms the tax code to raise more revenue can return America to a sustainable fiscal trajectory. But, the MedInfo Act will help citizens grasp how the Medicare system works.

2011-03-31 00:00:00

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