RSS
Should Congress raise the eligibility age for Medicare?
Going from 65 to 67 would save more than $100 billion over the next decade
 
Americans are living and working longer. Why not raise the Medicare eligibility age?
Americans are living and working longer. Why not raise the Medicare eligibility age? Thinkstock

As America races toward the fiscal cliff, much of the debate has centered on raising tax rates on households earning more than $250,000 a year. Republicans remain publicly opposed to the idea, but the smart money is that they've lost that argument and know it. President Obama won re-election with a promise to raise taxes on the wealthy; Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has little leverage to make Obama back down; and even a majority of Republicans — 61 percent — supports the idea. 

Less discussed is what entitlement cuts the two sides can agree on. One money-saving proposal is to raise the eligibility age for Medicare. As Janet Hook and Carol E. Lee note at The Wall Street Journal, "The prospect of cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs is making many Democrats anxious. Of particular concern is Republicans' call for increasing the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, an idea that cold split Democrats." According to the Congressional Budget Office, raising the eligibility age gradually between 2012 and 2021 would save $113 billion.

Liberals oppose the idea on the grounds that it is ineffective and inhumane. "There are far better ways of extracting Medicare savings," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post

And doing this could hurt lots and lots of people. As I noted yesterday, a new report finds that raising the age could leave hundreds of thousands of seniors (many of them poor) uninsured, because there’s no telling for sure whether Obamacare or Medicaid will be an effective safety net for those booted from Medicare. What’s more, the report finds that it could undermine ObamaCare’s goals of controlling health care costs.

However, many conservative commentators say raising the age is a no-brainer. It's not about "arbitrarily stiffing seniors," says Daniel Foster at National Review:

The principle behind it is that Americans are both living longer and working longer, and that old-age/retirement entitlements should reflect that shift… Yes, raising the eligibility age would shift costs from the government to individuals, and yes, that would save the government money. This is a deficit reduction deal we are talking about.

In the end, even if isn't smart policy, Democrats may be better off compromising, says Jonathan Chait at New York:

Since the Medicare retirement age holds such strange totemic power on the right, and since there are ways to mitigate the harm, it seems like a sensible bargaining chip that can be traded for other policies that have a lot of value. And that’s the real question here — not, Are bad policies acceptable?, but, Which bad policies should we be willing to accept?

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week