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Expanding Medicare: Will the Medicare age be lowered?

Expanding Medicare: Will the Medicare age be lowered?

Posted on June 30, 2021 by Kyle Walton

Democrats Push for Medicare Expansion

During his 2020 Presidential campaign, Joe Biden proposed lowering Medicare age restrictions from 65 to 60. This change would make Medicare accessible to a larger group of Americans than ever before.

Now, many Democrats are pushing to make the expansion, and other public healthcare initiatives, a reality.

In late May 2020, 156 members of the House of Democrats drafted a letter imploring President Biden to lower the eligibility age. Less than a month later, Forbes reported that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Bernie Sanders were drafting a $6 trillion plan, which they hope to pass through budget reconciliation, that includes lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60.

Expanding Medicare continues to be a Democratic party priority.

Who would benefit from a Medicare Expansion?

Effects of Lowering the Medicare Age

Most people support lowering the Medicare age as a way to increase affordable health coverage options for Americans. While individuals from 60-64 would receive the obvious benefit of access to Medicare coverage as an alternative to employer sponsored healthcare, younger people may also profit due to the decreased burden on employers to provide coverage for workers in that age range.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 11.7 million people could shift from employer provided private health coverage into Medicare if an expansion is implemented. This would both reduce costs of health insurance for the individuals who switch to Medicare – which is generally less expensive than private coverage – and potentially decrease the cost of coverage for those who remained on employer provided plans.

Additionally, the plan being drafted by Schumer and Sanders may propose an expansion in the types of coverage offered by Medicare, including dental work, hearing aids, and  eyeglasses. For many Americans, this would mean Medicare would help pay for vital items and services that are not typically covered by current benefits. 

Schumer addressed this issue in a June 20 press conference. "If you talk to family medicine or primary care doctors, they will tell you with certainty that ignoring medical issues related to dental, vision and hearing often devolves into far more serious medical problems for people - especially seniors - that cost more to treat and are harder to remedy.”

Is Medicare better than other health insurance programs?

Healthcare consulting firm Avalere reports that lowering the Medicare eligibility age could grant as many as 24.5 million Americans access to Medicare coverage, including 2 million Americans who are currently uninsured or underinsured. However, switching to Medicare from a different form of government subsidized coverage may lead to an increased premium cost for many beneficiaries.

While a change to Medicare would likely be cost effective for individuals currently enrolled in employer provided insurance programs, the current structure of Medicare does not always provide affordable coverage for low-income beneficiaries who rely on other government programs. Low income individuals typically pay a much lower premium for subsidized exchange coverage than they would with Medicare.

In the report, Avalere Associate Principal Massey Whorley states, “Policymakers need to consider all the potential impacts to ensure that patients benefit from better coverage and lower premiums under a Medicare expansion, regardless of their income.” 

When it comes to providing Americans with better healthcare options, lowering the Medicare age is not a one-size-fits all solution. Detailed analysis is needed to ensure a Medicare expansion would actually benefit the underinsured people  who need affordable healthcare coverage most.

Will the Medicare age be lowered?

Some politicians argue for an even more dramatic expansion than simply lowering the Medicare age. U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Dingell introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021 to Congress in March 2021, proposing the program be expanded to include all Americans, regardless of age. 

It is clear the expansion of Medicare will remain a popular topic of debate in the next several election cycles. Where the government will land is less clear.

Whatever decisions are made, any changes to Medicare requirements would take a significant amount of time and budgeting to implement. We will continue to report on developments. 

About the Author

Kyle Walton

Kyle is a professional writer with several years of experience helping to inform the public on many diverse topics and industries, including healthcare. He is a Kutztown University graduate, Class of 2017.

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