Social Security reform is getting a lot of attention this year, but the real monkey wrench in the nation's entitlement system may actually be Medicare.

    So says a new report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), which notes that Medicare faces larger long-term financial problems than Social Security.

    Over the next 75 years, according to the report, Medicare's unfunded liability, at $28 trillion, is more than seven times greater than Social Security's $3.7 trillion.

    "Medicare's financial problems are much more immediate-and more difficult to solve-than what the Social Security program will face in several decades," says EBRI President Dallas Salisbury.

    The report found that continual increases in the cost of health care, at a rate outpacing inflation, are threatening the solvency of Medicare and casting an "enormous shadow over the entire American health care system."

    Among the points noted in the report are that the Medicare trust fund is on course to begin declining in 2010 and be exhausted within a decade. The number of beneficiaries, meanwhile, has doubled to 40 million since 1970 and is projected to nearly double again to 70 million by 2030.

    "Basically, Medicare is providing expanded coverage for a growing population even as the cost of care for each individual relentlessly increases-while the program's already inadequate revenue structure is left unchanged," says Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI's health research and education program.