NEAR ELDERLY: Democrats Unveil Medicare Buy-In Bill
President Clinton attended a Capitol Hill news conference this morning where congressional Democrats formally announced their bill to allow the near elderly to buy into Medicare. Additionally, a state-by-state study underscoring the need for this policy was expected to be released. In addition to the president, Sens. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) appeared at the news conference, along with Reps. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Pete Stark (D-CA) (White House release, 3/17). According to CongressDaily/A.M., their Democratic proposal would make seniors aged 62-65 eligible for Medicare benefits at a monthly premium of $300; the proposal would take effect in July 1999. Eligible near-elderly persons "also would have to pay a deferred monthly premium from ages 65 to 85 equal to $16 times the number of years from ages 62 to 65 that they participated in the buy-in." The bill also includes a provision allowing persons 55- 62 to buy into Medicare, so long as "they were eligible for unemployment insurance, no longer had coverage, were not eligible for COBRA coverage, and had at least a year of employment-based health insurance before being laid off." For these persons, the "monthly premium would be $400, adjusted for inflation," with no deferment. Democrats claim that the program would essentially pay for itself through the premiums and through stepped-up efforts to combat Medicare fraud (Koffler, 3/17).
Tell Us Why, Bill
USA Today reports that Clinton "comes armed with a White House study showing that 4.6 million, or 22%, of the 21 million people in" the near-elderly age group "either lack coverage or have expensive, individually purchased policies." The study further shows that 38 states "fail to guarantee 55- to 64-year-olds access to individual health insurance if they already have a medical problem." The study also says 40 states "don't limit the amount insurers can charge people who have such pre-existing conditions" (Findlay, 3/17). According to the study, the problem "is especially acute in states such as North Dakota, Texas and Nebraska." Thirty-seven percent of near-elderly North Dakotans "lack coverage or pay for expensive individual coverage," while 31% of near-elderly Texans and 33% of near-elderly Nebraskans fall into this category. The study was prepared by the White House's Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council.
Congressional Republicans have promised to oppose the near-elderly proposal. They disagree with Democrats' estimates of the plan's cost, and are "concerned that it could push the Medicare Trust Fund toward insolvency" (Ross, AP/Los Angeles Times, 3/17).