The latest proposed expansion of Medicare benefits could be a welcome health insurance option to early retirees who leave employment or have been forced out of their jobs before the age of 65.
Democratic U.S. Senators unveiled the latest version of Medicare expansion Wednesday, calling it the “Medicare at 50 Act,” which would allow people between the ages of 50 and 64 the option of buying into Medicare. Introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the legislation is similar to a bill offered in the past by some of the same Democrats in 2017 that proposed to lower the age of Medicare eligibility to 55.
This time, the Democratic senators seem more focused on a block of Americans that can gain access to coverage under the Affordable Care Act and its protections for those with pre-existing conditions, but are often hit hard by premium increases. Some in their 50s and early 60s who didn’t get the ACA’s subsidies got socked with higher premiums as the ACA’s individual coverage, also known as Obamacare, went through a period of instability in part because some insurers couldn’t manage costs of all of the sick patients buying coverage.
People approaching age 65 but not eligible for ACA subsidies face the biggest affordability problems in the individual insurance market. How much a Medicare buy-in would help them depends (as always) on the details.
— Larry Levitt (@larry_levitt) February 13, 2019
“Millions of Americans who are approaching retirement or are being forced to retire early due to layoffs or mandatory retirement face increasing health care needs and rising costs,” the Senators said in their announcement of the legislation unveiled Wednesday.
The targeting of early retirees and people who lose employer coverage would seem to address a concern of the business community and health insurance companies that see Medicare expansions like “single payer” potentially replacing the existing commercial system and diminishing the private insurer’s role in administering government subsidized benefits.
But health insurance companies are taking a cautious approach to cheering any Medicare expansion even if it includes a “buy in” for Medicare Advantage, the increasingly popular coverage that private insurers administer for more than 20 million people 65 years old and over.
“This is a slippery slope to government-run health care for every American,” AHIP’s executive vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives, David Merritt, said. AHIP represents insurers that sell Medicare Advantage including Anthem, Centene, Cigna and WellCare Health Plans as well as an array of Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.
AHIP bemoaned “Medicare at 50” as a “one size fits all” plan, but it allows people to buy private Medicare Advantage coverage their member insurers sell.
The Medicare at 50 legislation includes support of several Democratic Senators running for President. Senators listed as co-sponsors of Medicare At 50 are: Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
“It will help strengthen Medicare, lower costs, and improve care for millions of people,” Stabenow said.
Supporters see Medicare At 50 as another step toward universal coverage for all Americans. “I support universal coverage and I believe one of the best ways to get there is by opening Medicare up for people in their 50s to voluntarily buy in,” Sen. Brown said. “This will help millions of people, strengthen the Affordable Care Act and get us closer to our goal of making sure everyone has healthcare coverage.”