Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has proposed lowering the age requirement for Medicare by five years in effort to respond to the economic fragility of the U.S. amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden seems to be attempting to band the Democratic party together by giving a nod to Senator Bernie Sanders’s Medicare For All plan, by lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 60.
Biden has made it clear that Americans 60 to 64 years old would still have the option to keep their employer health coverage if they wanted to, or could join Medicare. On Biden’s Medium blog, he writes:
“Under this concept, Americans would have access, if they choose, to Medicare when they turn 60, instead of when they turn 65. Medicare benefits would be provided to them as they are to current Medicare recipients. This would make Medicare available to a set of Americans who work hard and retire before they turn 65, or who would prefer to leave their employer plans, the public option, or other plans they access through the Affordable Care Act before they retire.”
COVID-19 economic response
The former vice prescient has made it clear that America’s new reality is that “older Americans are likely to find it difficult to secure jobs, even after the current crisis ends.”
As coronavirus has caused 22 million job losses across the country, there could not be a better time to allow Medicare to be more age inclusive. While some workers will be rehired when businesses reopen, many of them will not be as the pandemic has crippled some businesses beyond repair.
Biden’s proposal acknowledges the reality set by COVID-19 that many people will be facing early retirement even after the current crisis ends.
Not Bernie’s Medicare for All
Although Biden’s proposal would allow Americans to buy into Medicare by reducing the age limit, it would not otherwise change Medicare. Beneficiaries are to continue to pay for Medicare through a combination of Medicare taxes during their working years plus monthly premiums when retired.
This plan is much less radical than what Senator Bernie Sanders is promoting. Medicare for All would completely replace the current Medicare system with a universal, single-payer option for all Americans, funded likely by tax increases on both businesses and individuals, rather than healthcare just for the elderly.
In comparison, Biden’s healthcare plan would be financed by government revenues instead of the Medicare Trust Fund. It calls for large cuts to hospital revenues to keep it affordable. In this respect, it would not contribute to the current problem with the solvency of Medicare.
One feature of Biden’s plan is that beneficiaries would have a choice to receive their Medicare benefits from a private local insurance carrier or from the federal government. Medicare Advantage plans are run by private insurance companies today and would continue to be run by them under Biden’s plan. Keep in mind that Medicare for All includes the end of private health insurance companies altogether.
“Republicans are all about long-term [Medicare] solvency,” says Matt Whitlock of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In fact, in recent years, Republicans have pushed to raise the eligibility age to 67 to parallel the new Social Security guidelines.
Still, Whitlock says, Biden’s latest proposal could disrupt any efforts of the government to oppose Medicare for All. Right now, he says, the crux of their argument is that allowing Medicare for All would threaten the viability of the popular program for those who are now enrolled in it.
Will it be enough?
Biden’s Presidential economic plan is focused on making Medicare more inclusive by widening the age cap, continuing America’s healthcare as was the plan when he served as Vice President, and reopening Obamacare. He also plans student loan forgiveness of a minimum $10,000 and adjusting interest rates, among other payment forgiveness programs, such as for those working in public service.
Biden is confident in our country’s 244-year record of “emerging stronger” from crisis. His belief is no different for this pandemic; he believes that the U.S. can overcome it with his economic and healthcare plans.