As the COVID pandemic continues to bear down, it is affecting those Americans who are most vulnerable to the virus as well as those most financially at risk.

As of mid-February, individuals 65 and over make up as many as 81% COVID-19-related deaths, a staggering number that has claimed the lives of 373,000 older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via The Inquirer.

Those within this age group are most susceptible to contracting the virus and succumbing to the disease, putting them in a high-risk category of vulnerable individuals amid the pandemic.

Compounding the matter is the limited budget that many who are 65 and older are on due to Social Security and Medicare restrictions – the federal programs that offer retirement and medical benefits to older and disabled Americans.

Throughout their working years, Americans pay into these programs through payroll deductions, drawing on them as they reach retirement age. But Social Security and Medicare have been wrought with their own set of financial challenges as people are living longer.

Budgetary Challenges

With so many lives lost, one would assume that Social Security and Medicare’s financial burden would lessen as there would be fewer people to support each month, but it doesn’t seem to be putting a dent in the programs’ budgets.

According to the Inquirer, some economists and government actuaries have said that while those COVID deaths will reduce Social Security costs for a few years, it will only represent about half of 1% of total beneficiaries.

These deaths are expected to only offset other trends that are predicted to occur, somewhat slowing the day that Social Security is estimated to run out of money in 2034 to 2035, the Inquirer said.

Medicare’s fate isn’t any better as the program is predicted to also run out of money in 2024 to 2026, depending on the government office that is declaring the estimate, the news outlet said.

COVID Costs

The reason for the fund deficiency amid the pandemic despite the decrease in the number of people who would continue to receive benefits under the programs is a rise in expensive emergency hospital costs for COVID end-of-life treatment.

Long-Term Effects

It is also unclear how COVID will impact disability payments for those who survive the virus and have serious long-term symptoms. This could drive increases in Social Security disability funding that actuaries predict would increase for the next three years before returning to the current baseline level, Inquirer said.

Cash-Strapped Institutions

Couple this with cash-strapped hospitals that postponed elective surgeries and doctor visits during lockdowns, causing loans to be unpaid to the programs, the Inquirer said. Part of the financial security of Social Security and Medicare depends on these loans, and if they are unable to collect on them, more struggles will ensue.

Unemployment Impacts

Even further, with millions of Americans out of work, fewer workers and employers are paying into the programs’ funds. This issue is further complicated by those employees who have had their hours and contributions cut back because of the pandemic, The Hill reported.

The Good And The Bad

But it is not all bad news, as Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the Inquirer : “The truth of the matter is that Congress never has and never will allow these programs to run out of money. No one should lose a moment’s sleep that the pandemic and recession will cause their Medicare and Social Security benefits to stop.”

But Olivia Mitchell, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, thinks the situation is much more dire. She told the news outlet that in 1983, Congress waited until the Social Security program was three months from insolvency before coming up with an imperfect fix.

“The fact is that we don’t have much time to fix that system…. We’ve been talking about it for 30 years, and nothing much happens,” Mitchell said

But for many Americans, the system seems to be working so far. Payments have continued without cuts, and many economists see the problems that Social Security and Medicare have as the same ones they had before the pandemic began.

“I don’t think COVID has done much to any of these things, but they all had problems before COVID, and they will have problems after COVID,” Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, told the Inquirer.

Social Security Cards Stock image of social security card and money Photo: Flickr