Top Senate Democrat Backs Away From Raising Medicare Eligibility Age

As rumors swirl that Democrats may consider raising the Medicare eligibility age to reach a deal before the looming “fiscal cliff,” a top Senate Democrat expressed opposition to that option Sunday. Speaking on Meet the Press, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said raising the age at which seniors can receive Medicare from 65 to 67 would leave retired seniors with a dangerous gap in their health coverage:

DAVID GREGORY (HOST): I want to pin you down on one point about Medicare. You say you want to basically put off this discussion until later. But bottom line, should the Medicare eligibility age go up? Should there be means testing to really get at the benefits side, if you’re going to shore this program up, because as you say, 12 years before it runs out of money?

DURBIN: Here’s what it comes down to David. I do believe there should be means testing. And those of us with higher income in retirement should pay more. That could be part of the solution. But when you talk about raising the Medicare eligibility age, there’s one key question–what happens to that early retiree? What about that gap in coverage between their workplace and Medicare? How will they be covered? Now I listen to Republicans say we can’t wait to repeal Obamacare and the insurance exchanges. Well, where does a person turn if they’re 65 years of age and the Medicare eligibility age is 67? They have two years there where they may not have the best of health. They need to have accessible, affordable medical insurance during that period.

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also rejected raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of a year-end deal on spending cuts and tax increases, saying, “I am very much against it, and I think most of my members are.” President Obama was reportedly willing to support raising the Medicare eligibility age during 2011 debt negotiations, but has not said where he stands on the issue as part of the current deal.

A Congressional Budget Office study of the proposal to raise the Medicare age to 67 found it would have “little effect on the trajectory of Medicare’s long-term spending” because the youngest Medicare beneficiaries are the healthiest and least costly to the program. The costs, meanwhile, would include an estimated net increase of $5.6 billion in out-of-pocket health insurance costs for beneficiaries who would have been otherwise covered by Medicare, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. Seniors in Medicare Part B would also face a 3 percent premium increase, the study found, since younger and healthier enrollees would be routed out of Medicare and into private insurance. Beneficiaries in health care reform’s exchanges would see a similar spike in premiums with the addition of the older population.