Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a bill that would let people buy into Medicare beginning at age 50, casting the provision as an expansion of Obamacare.
“This is the first major improvement to the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., using the formal name for Obamacare. “The one fundamental flaw that there was, not because of fact but because of politics, was the lack of a public option.”
The Obamacare legislation initially did have such a “public option,” meaning a government-run health insurance plan, but it was stripped out in committee. The provision has long been opposed by the healthcare industry, which is concerned about the lower rates it will receive for medical services compared with private health insurance.
“There is no question that Medicare works for seniors and others who depend on it. But expanding the program with hospitals facing the lowest Medicare margins in history will make it more difficult to provide the critical care that all Americans expect and deserve,” Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, said in a statement.
The bill, the “Medicare at 50 Act,” would let people buy Medicare as an alternative to Obamacare plans if they are uninsured or if they want it instead of the coverage they’re getting through work. It also contains a provision that would let the health secretary negotiate drug prices. Lead sponsors, other than Higgins, include Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut.
The legislation is geared at older adults because they face higher health insurance costs than younger people. Democrats said in the press conference that their premiums in the Obamacare marketplace could drop by as much as 40 percent. If more older people who have more medical needs buy into Medicare, then premiums would be expected to fall for people who are left behind in the Obamacare marketplaces as well.
The Medicare program currently covers adults 65 and older and people with disabilities. Medicare currently has about 55 million enrollees, which include people 65 and older as well as people who are disabled. Higgins told the Washington Examiner in an earlier interview that he would anticipate about 60 million more people would become eligible for Medicare through his bill.
The financing would not come from the current Medicare program, which is projected to become insolvent in 2026. Instead, the premium subsidies in Obamacare could go toward the public plans, and premiums individuals pay would also help fund them.
Democratic leaders have signaled they favor more gradual changes to the healthcare system rather than the “Medicare for all” approach backed by several Senate Democrats vying for their party’s nomination for president, which has broad Democratic support in the House. Under Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I-Vt., Medicare for All Act, everyone would receive government-financed coverage and private health insurance would disappear.
“I have always supported universal healthcare, but we are not there yet,” said Baldwin, who is also a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All Act.