Other views: Raising Medicare age creates more problems

5:27 PM, Mar. 26, 2013  |  Comments
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For more than two years, President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress have tried to find common ground on the federal budget. The meetings are held in private, with participants emerging from the sessions to say only they are "getting nowhere" or "making progress."

Meanwhile, Americans are left to wonder if the country will fall off a fiscal cliff or bump into a debt ceiling.

According to the Associated Press, anonymous sources talked about the goings-on between lawmakers and the president during a private meeting held recently at a hotel a few blocks from the White House. Apparently, Republican senators wanted to know if Obama would support increasing the eligibility age for Medicare health insurance from 65 to 66.

If this is representative of the ideas being talked about in these secret meetings, then it's hard to see how any progress is being made. This idea is one that has been run up the flagpole repeatedly, with few people offering a salute. A lawmaker who had been at the hotel meeting said it seemed the president "would be very resistant" to the idea.

Let's hope so. It is hard to understand how it makes sense to increase the age when future Americans would be able to sign up for government health insurance. Lawmakers supporting the idea have much more explaining to do - in public.

Before the health reform law went into effect, the Congressional Budget Office evaluated a proposal to increase Medicare eligibility to age 67. Researchers concluded that insuring fewer people could save Uncle Sam money, but younger enrollees are healthier and cheaper to insure than older ones, thereby spreading cost and risk.

The CBO also raised the obvious question: Where will these older people get health insurance?

They would have to remain in jobs longer, cutting off job opportunities for younger workers. Low-income people couldn't afford to buy their own insurance to cover themselves until they became eligible for Medicare. Insurers wouldn't sell it to those who have health problems. Many older Americans would simply go without insurance for the first time since Medicare was created in 1965.

Are Republicans suggesting that instead of Medicare, these people between 65 and 66 years of age should be covered by the same health reform law they oppose? If so, they need to explain how that would work and save money.

Would 65-year-olds be eligible to enroll solely in Medicaid, which has been expanded by the health reform law and is paid almost entirely by taxpayers? Would they find coverage in the new insurance exchanges, where the federal government will be providing subsidies for people to buy private coverage?

Republicans need to provide information about how that would save taxpayers money, because most seniors currently pay premiums that cover 25 percent of the cost of their Medicare insurance.

The attempt to shrink Medicare eligibility feels like yet another political attack on a program that has been helping Americans for nearly 50 years. Though the program has more to do in getting spending under control, it's unlikely eliminating the youngest, healthiest enrollees would help.

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