Opening up Medicare?

The viability of the public option is looking less and less likely as negotiations continue.  Senators Lieberman, and, well, pretty much every Republican said they won’t vote for it.  No way you can get to 60 votes then.  So what can Democrats get in exchange for letting it go?

Senate Democrats are discussing the idea of expanding Medicare by lowering the age at which the elderly could enter the government-run insurance program, Democratic sources on the Hill tell the Huffington Post.

The proposal would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 55, though an age limit of 60 has also been suggested. Crucial details — such as the timing of the implementation of such a reform — were not provided due to the sensitivity and ongoing nature of the deliberations. A high-ranking Democratic source off the Hill confirmed that such discussions are taking place.

This is an interesting idea.  Health insurance on the individual market for someone over 55 is not cheap.  So even if they had to pay Medicare rates, it might be cheaper than private insurance.  And Medicare is a huge “public option” with negotiating power and leverage. People know what Medicare is; they like it.

Moreover, this would have many of the side effects that progressives want and conservatives fear.  It would start a slippery slope of increasing Medicare eligibility.  If they lower it to 55, what’s to stop later lowering to 50?  And further?  And – as more and more people are on Medicare – it will seem inevitable that we will go to “Medicare for all”.

If this passes, it’s ironic that by stonewalling a weak, limited public option (that would never have gotten us to single payer), Republicans and conservative Democrats might have hastened the development of true national health insurance.

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