Don’t start Medicare until 67? Not interested

Large majorities of Americans and the health insurance companies have something that’s in their mutual interest.

Neither are served by having the Medicare eligibility age go up.

Now, you may be thinking: Why in the world might the Medicare eligibility age go up?

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan campaigned on doing this, so that, in the coming years folks couldn’t get Medicare until 67.  But they lost the election to President Obama, who clearly did not support it.

It’s a really terrible policy idea, which would increase health care costs, shift costs to the states and hurt poor and moderate-income seniors in Maine and elsewhere.  The higher costs, Kaiser found, include higher premiums both in Medicare and for people buying private insurance, as well as higher costs for employers’ retiree health costs.

Raising the eligibility age would also cause great cynicism, since Obama did not support it in the campaign and so many Americans strongly oppose it. For Democrats, it would be political poison for many elections to come. No longer would they be the political party Americans trust on Medicare and health care in general. They’d also lose support from their base, with big declines in financial support, volunteering and turnout.

However, there has been some talk that this provision might be included in a Grand Bargain between Obama and congressional Republicans, a deal crafted to avoid the fiscal cliff.

If there is no deal, Americans would see taxes go up and funding slashed. While this would reduce the deficit, the reduced spending and higher taxes would take money out of the economy and we could have another recession.

I happen to think that, without a deal on the fiscal cliff, the bulk of the tax increases would be reversed fairly quickly. They’d come as soon as Congress passed the Obama tax cuts for 98% of Americans.

And raising Medicare eligibility age is not what the people and insurance companies want

In our post-Obamacare world, insurance companies have to take all comers, regardless of whether people have pre-existing conditions. Older people have more pre-existing conditions than younger folks.

Older people can be charged more, but there are limits.

So insurance companies clearly would prefer not to add 65 and 66 year-olds on their rolls. They’d rather have them enrolled in Medicare.

I’d expect insurance company lobbyists to convey that message to congressional Republicans. While those legislators have an ideological dislike of Medicare and may continue to call for cuts, there will be pressure to maintain the current eligibility age.

In this case, the companies’ preferences and the people’s preferences happen to converge.

This is not the only case where business will exert pressure on Republicans. Many are tiring of tea party purism and business leaders do not want a debt ceiling crisis again.

Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I think another debt ceiling crisis is therefore unlikely. And the confluence of interests makes a rise in the Medicare eligibility age unlikely as well.

Of course, none of this automatic. And citizens can weigh in by contacting elected officials, President Obama, both of Maine’s U.S. Senators and, depending on where you live, Congressman Michaud or Pingree.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.