But wait a minute. This may not be as easy as it sounds.
Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, points out that the Supreme Court decision upholding the law allows states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion called for by the Affordable Care Act. If they do, seniors in those states who might have been eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage would not be, and risk being uninsured. Those who could buy in the shopping exchanges would likely finding themselves paying far more for healthcare than they would have under traditional Medicare.
In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of those 65 and 66-year-olds—more than three million seniors—would pay on average $2,200 more each year in premiums co-insurance, and co-pays. Employers that provide health coverage to retirees would face higher costs too, as older workers continued to receive their primary coverage from employers. (When a worker goes on Medicare, Medicare becomes the primary payer and the retiree plan is the secondary insurer.)
And while the press is asking the question of who benefits, they should take a look at the healthcare industry—particularly hospitals, drug companies, and insurers. Last year the Healthcare Leadership Council, a consortium of 47 of healthcare’s heavy hitters—like Pfizer, the Cleveland Clinic, Aetna—recommended raising the age for Medicare eligibility. The American Hospital Association rallied its troops, too. “It’s pretty much a no-brainer to raise the eligibility for future enrollees,” said Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association.
Washington Post blogger Sarah Kliff exposed a major reason health industry biggies are pushing for a higher age: Hospitals get larger reimbursements from commercial insurers than from Medicare.
So the more people you can take from Medicare and send to private insurers, the more money for hospitals—and for insurance companies, too, of course. And perhaps even more significant: shifting costs to beneficiaries will lower Medicare’s outlays. That, in turn, could mean less need in the future to reduce fees to hospitals, doctors, and other providers.
There is a debate to be had on this, and journalists should make sure both sides of it are aired. Asking seniors to pay more to protect the incomes of big health businesses surely is reason enough to investigate this story and press Obama on why raising Medicare’s eligibility age is such a hot idea.