Raising Medicare age would hurt seniors and the economy

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The much-touted Republican plan to raise the eligibility age of Medicare would raise health care costs for seniors, hurt the overall economy, and put increasing pressure on older Americans, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found.

"This is a policy change that seems straightforward, but has surprising ripple effects," Tricia Neuman, Medicare specialist with Kaiser, said. "It's a simple thing to describe ... but I don't think people have thought through the indirect effects."

The idea of raising Medicare's eligibility age became a national demand of Republicans after House Budget Chair and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan put forward his budget, which called for massive cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and other federal programs that help poor and working Americans, while pushing continued huge tax cuts for the wealthy.

Among the indirect cost shifts the Kaiser study identified are the following;

* Higher Medicare premiums for those on Medicare because younger (and healthier) 65- and 66-year-olds would be kept out of the program, raising Medicare's insurance costs.  Kaiser said the cost increases for seniors could top three percent due to this change.

* An increase in costs for companies providing health care to their workers due to older workers staying on company health care plans instead of going onto Medicare at that age.

* Higher premiums for those on private insurance programs across the board as older, and less healthy, workers are forced to stay with private insurance rather than moving onto Medicare, as they now do.

* Much higher out-of-pocket expenses for more than two-thirds of older adults, as they are forced to wait two years longer to be Medicare-eligible.

* Kaiser and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a huge increase in uninsured Americans if Medicare eligibility is raised by two years. Texas and other states where Republican administrations have said they will refuse the federal increase in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are expected to be particularly hard hit.

Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, continue, even after suffering a historic defeat in the recent elections, to make the change in Medicare eligibility a centerpiece in their campaign to slash federal spending for poor and working Americans while keeping major tax cuts for the wealthy.

While President Obama is taking a tougher post-election position in budget talks, some Democrats appear ready to accept raising the Medicare eligibility age. Steny Hoyer, leading Democrat from Maryland, said last week that the Medicare eligibility shift is "clearly on the table."

The AFL-CIO, AARP, Alliance for Retired Americans and other organizations representing working and retired Americans are working hard at mobilizing their grassroots base, demanding "No cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security - have the wealthy pay their fair share."

"These vital programs have not caused the deficit," ARA President Barbara Easterling said in a recent public letter. "Instead, reckless tax cuts and loopholes for the wealthy and greedy Wall Street behavior have. Make those who caused the deficit pay for it."

Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, in a radio interview last week, compared the so-called "fiscal cliff" to the Mayan Cclendar, which some alarmists have stated sets this year as the "end of the world."  

"I think we'll be here the day after both of these phony, made up, so-called 'crises'," he said. " The point is that we can't let self-promoting corporate snake oil salesmen stampede us off of a real cliff, destroying real programs that really help real people and our real economy."

Photo: President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner speak to reporters about the deficit, the economy, and Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security in Washington. Republicans are seeking to raise the Medicare eligibility age.   Carolyn Kaster/AP

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