NEAR ELDERLY: First Step To Raising Medicare Age?
Many "health policy analysts ... are concluding" that President Clinton's proposal to expand Medicare eligibility to the near elderly "would make a relatively small dent in the insurance problems of Americans age 55 to 64," the Washington Post reports. However, these analysts also said the near- elderly proposal could make it easier for the government to raise the Medicare eligibility age in an effort to secure the program's long-term financial viability. Former Health Care Financing Administration head Bruce Vladeck said allowing the near elderly to buy into Medicare "makes it possible to have a conversation about eligibility age that isn't all-or-nothing." Brookings Institution health economist Robert Reischauer said, "'This could be part of a bigger chess game,' setting a precedent of charging people of different ages different amounts." He also said, "This expansion might make the more bitter pill a little easier to swallow." White House health policy aide Chris Jennings said, "If you really do want to raise the eligibility age -- which would be a difficult thing to do -- you absolutely cannot do that without having a policy like [the president's near-elderly proposal] in place. This is an essential underpinning."
What Could Have Been
According to Jennings, the White House "settled on the Medicare idea after considering, and rejecting, the possibility of trying to stiffen regulation of private insurance companies to require them to sell older Americans individual policies at affordable prices." However, after the bruising Medicare battles in recent years, "they knew they could not make any proposal that would siphon money from the program." Jennings said that even though the proposed program "would have limits ... it was worth trying" (Goldstein, 1/25).
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said this weekend that congressional Republicans plan to keep their focus on balancing the budget before considering any new spending programs. In the GOP response to Clinton's weekly radio address, Lott said the president's "plans to expand Medicare and other social programs raise questions of 'honor and trust' in light of last year's budget-balancing deal." Hinting at a number of programs Clinton is expected to unveil in his Tuesday State of the Union speech, Lott said, "I want to make it clear that our concern about what the president may propose in his speech isn't just a matter of money. It's a matter of honor and trust. Will the president and Congress honor the commitments we made to you last year in the balanced-budget agreement?" (Fram, AP/Los Angeles Times, 1/24).