COVID-19 Unemployment Rates Could Lead to a Medicare Buy-in

The great economic upset from the novel COVID-19 virus could potentially push older Americans to buy into Medicare. 

Over two million adults between the ages of 55 and 64 have lost their jobs since the pandemic erupted in March, which brought the unemployment rate for this age group up to a staggering 12.5 percent. This number has tripled since pre-quarantine. 

Affordable health insurance 

The decline of the job market will leave many seniors without job-based health coverage for a long time. There are options available, though they come with a hefty price.

  • Medicaid will cover many of the newly uninsured, though not in states that haven’t expanded the program. 
  • The Affordable Care Act will help many others maintain coverage, but those plans often come with high deductibles. 
  • COBRA is available to people who lost jobs that offered insurance, but it’s often expensive.

Medicare buy-in and subsidization 

Millions of uninsured 55 to 65 year-olds could add new urgency to calls for a Medicare buy-in if Democrats control the White House and Congress in 2020.

A Medicare buy-in program is a way to expand coverage to people approaching the age of Medicare eligibility who may currently have difficulty accessing and affording good health coverage. For a buy-in to efficiently reduce the ranks of the uninsured in the target population, the availability of subsidies to make premiums affordable is a must.

Medicare buy-in might help people who are looking for affordable coverage, but only if the premiums are subsidized. Otherwise, the program is likely to be affordable only to those who are wealthy or those with high health spending, which will drive up program costs even further. 

The future in Medicare buy-ins

The leading Medicare buy-in plan in Congress would allow people 50 years of age and older to purchase Medicare coverage with a subsidy, or sum of money granted by the government, for low-income enrollees similar to the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.

Presidential Candidate and former Vice President, Joe Biden, has proposed to simply lower Medicare’s eligibility age from 65 to 60, without a buy-in, if elected President in 2021. 

Republicans and hospitals typically oppose all Medicare expansions, and some Democrats do as well.

If the economy and job market remain stagnant, the health insurance circumstances of 55 to 64 year olds could risk the greater the urgency for an early buy-in to Medicare.

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