Mike Leavitt was in Utah this week, delivering a message that often is repeated on this page but seldom seems to get attention anywhere else: Medicare is in trouble.
It's a message that should be accompanied by its close cousin: Social Security is in trouble. But Leavitt, Utah's former governor, is secretary of Health and Human Services, which gives him particular expertise concerning Medicare.
Speaking to a conference for seniors at the Little America Hotel, Leavitt laid out the problem. Baby boomers are aging and acquiring all the related infirmities, and there aren't enough younger workers to pay the taxes to cover their benefits. At the same time, health-care costs are skyrocketing. Leavitt said that by 2030 the average family will spend 41 percent of its budget for health care, if things don't change.
And the Medicare trust fund will be broke by 2019.
Leavitt has at times added some other statistics to his message of gloom. Today, 12 percent of the nation is over 65. By 2030, that figure will be almost 20 percent. The real crunch will begin in 2011 when the first of the "boomers" turns 65 and becomes eligible for benefits.
Statistics can be inexact, especially when used to predict future conditions. Both Medicare and Social Security could be extended if the nation would liberalize immigration laws and allow for an influx of younger workers. But there is no denying that a crisis looms.
No denying, that is, unless you are a politician. The three main candidates left in the presidential race each have addressed the issue, but they have done so much the way a child answers the question, "How was school today?" They are big on generalities and short on specifics, and they rarely talk about it at all.
John McCain has been the most specific. He wants to more closely tie premium costs to income. Wealthier seniors ought to pay more for their benefits. That makes sense. Unfortunately, Congress has rejected similar plans. In any event, it wouldn't keep the trust fund solvent.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to reduce Medicare payments to private managed-care health plans and allow the government to negotiate lower prices with drug companies also far short of what is needed.
Finding a meaningful solution would be easier now than in a decade. Given what is at stake, this ought to command more attention than the current mortgage crisis.
Part of Leavitt's message was that the world, and economies, are changing rapidly. Business leaders nationwide are having to deal with those changes.
Unfortunately, politics especially the kind dominated by special interests rarely is nimble.