Raising the Medicare eligibility age has been reported as being ‘on the table’ in the debt/deficit talks in Washington DC. (More)

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) placed a plan ‘on the table’ that recommended raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67, touting ‘significant’ cost savings.

Whether a raise in the eligibility age is truly ‘on the table’ or only ‘on the table’ as a trial balloon or to spur discussion, the issue is one that deserves a closer look.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is our country’s health insurance program for people age 65 or older.

Medicare is financed by a portion of the payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers. It also is financed in part by monthly premiums deducted from Social Security checks.

People who retire before age 65, have few decent health insurance options :

1. Retiree medical insurance
2. COBRA coverage
3. Other forms of group coverage
4. Individual insurance
5. High risk pools and pre-existing condition plans
6. Part-time job
7. Exchanges coming in 2014

Some early retirees choose to take their chances and hope they can get to age 65 without any illnesses that wipe out their life savings and bankrupt their children.

Many older people who are still working but have no employer health insurance coverage have also chosen to defer health care. This is leading to seniors entering the Medicare system with illnesses that cost more to treat than if they had been able to receive medical attention when the symptoms first showed up.

The country’s overall health care bill does not go down when the eligibility age is increased: the costs just shift:

When most Americans turn 65 and retire, they shift from private health insurance to Medicare. More doing so means more Medicare expenditures. But this is a change in where expenditures show up – in public or private budgets – not in total health-care spending.

Even if cost were the only consideration studies have shown that changes in Medicare eligibility will harm health

The authors found that, relative to those with insurance before age 65, those without insurance prior to Medicare eligibility spent much more money on health care after they became Medicare eligible. In other words, people wait to get care until their Medicare kicks in. This is bad both for health and for the federal government’s bottom line.

Delaying Medicare even longer would likely make this worse. People would forego care longer, health would suffer, and Medicare would pay for the consequences later.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (surprisingly, the same one mentioned above!) recommended back in 2009 that the government create a Medicare early opt-in as the best plan for health care reform:

“My proposals were to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid…

“When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a group — post 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and they’re too young to qualify for Medicare.

“What I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early and again on the premise that that would be less expensive than the enormous cost. If you’re 55 or 60 and you’re without health insurance and you go in to try to buy it, because you’re older … you’re rated as a risk so you pay a lot of money.”

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, providing access to health care became a moral obligation of the government and the government will bear the costs of health care sooner or later.

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Does it make any sense to raise the Medicare eligibility age?

Does it make more sense to lower the Medicare eligibility age to coincide with Social Security early retirement options?

Does Joe Lieberman have a calculator? Does Joe Lieberman have a heart? Does Joe Lieberman have a memory?

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