NEAR ELDERLY: Medicare Buy-In Officially Introduced
A report released yesterday by the White House shows that "[m]ore than one of every four Californians age 55 to 64 struggles against potential health risks without any insurance coverage or relies on expensive individual policies," the Scripp-McClatchly/San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The report estimates that 400,000 Californians in the near-elderly age group are uninsured and 210,000 get coverage through costly individual policies (Rennert, 3/18). The report's release coincided with congressional Democrats' formal introduction of President Clinton's plan to let the near elderly buy into the Medicare program, the Baltimore Sun reports (Weisman, 3/18). The New York Times reports that Democrats are ready to "take the issue to the Senate floor, bypassing the Finance Committee and forcing Republicans to vote on the expansion of Medicare in this election year." Democratic lawmakers who joined the president in introducing the Medicare buy-in included Sen. Patrick Moynihan (NY), Rep. Pete Stark (CA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (SD) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (MA) (Pear, 3/18).
Call For Bipartisanship
At the news conference, the president expressed hope for bipartisan support, saying, "I believe this is an issue on which Democrats and Republicans should be able to unite. We ask the Republicans to come and help us on this. ... We want to do it in a bipartisan fashion and get it behind us. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there in America who need this initiative." Clinton joked, "I want to say that this is not an entirely disinterested thing. In 2001, I will be 55 and unemployed, through no fault of my own. And this bill has a lot of appeal to me" (transcript, 3/17).
Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK), reflecting Republican sentiment toward Clinton's proposal, called it "grossly irresponsible" and complained that Clinton "would expand (Medicare eligibility) to age five if he could." House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) called the proposal "a real problem area." Senate Finance Committee Chair Bill Roth (R-DE) said the proposal should be put on hold "until it can be evaluated by the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/17). House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA) noted the need to correct Medicare "shortfalls" before considering Clinton's proposal (Thomas release, 3/17). National Association of Manufacturers Vice President for Entitlement Policy Sharon Canner said Clinton's proposal "undercuts the president's own Medicare commission." She said, "The president seems willing to take an enormous risk for the sake of a very limited gain. Congress should reject the Clinton plan and await the recommendations of the Medicare panel now evaluating what course to take" (NAM release, 3/17).
Senate Democrats vowed yesterday to attach the bill "to another legislative vehicle if the Finance Committee fails to" send it to the Senate floor (CongressDaily, 3/17). The AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Democrats believe the proposal does not threaten Medicare's solvency "because its financing [is] separate from that of the trust fund" (Hunt, 3/18). The White House also issued a fact sheet touting the Medicare buy-in plan, along with "a study showing that five million people ages 55 through 64 are uninsured or paying for expensive individual policies" (AP/Inquirer, 3/18).