In an effort to win over Bernie supporters and help more older adults, Vice President Joe Biden has a new addition to his health care reform plan. Biden proposes to lower the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 from 65 and to pay for this coverage with federal funds, preserving the Medicare Trust Funds. Under this proposal, people could choose to join Medicare as soon as they turned 60.
Vice-President Joe Biden’s Medicare plan is at best a small step in the right direction. But, it’s too small. Biden should be offering traditional Medicare to everyone, not just people between 60 and 65. As the coronavirus pandemic highlights in spades, tens of millions of people under 60 are uninsured or underinsured, and desperately need good, affordable health care.
Moreover, Biden proposes to open Medicare to people at 60 without addressing the fact that traditional Medicare does not have an out-of-pocket cap. Every other health insurance in the US has an out-of-pocket cap, which the Affordable Care Act mandated. Putting an out-of-pocket cap in traditional Medicare would cost relatively little and protect everyone with traditional Medicare from financial risk. No one would need to buy Medicare supplemental coverage.
An October 2018 Commonwealth Fund report reveals that a traditional Medicare out-of-pocket cap of $3,500 a year would cost about $36 a month per person, relatively little to ensure that no one faces extraordinary health care costs. Moreover, the cap would help ensure a level playing field between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans, which have an out-of-pocket cap.
Biden’s plan would keep the state health insurance exchanges. And, it would add a “public option” in the state exchanges, although it is completely unclear how that would work. He also proposes additional health insurance subsidies to help more people cover the cost of care. But, these proposals are destined to leave people with insurance through the state health exchanges, and people with employer coverage, woefully underinsured and without reliable health care coverage.
In sum, Biden’s proposal to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60 and use federal funds to subsidize the cost of coverage would strengthen Medicare, increasing the pool of people benefiting from it. But, unless it includes a catastrophic cap in traditional Medicare, it is of limited value. Moreover, it would do nothing to help guarantee people under 60 good affordable coverage. And, it fails to address the lack of accountability and the bad practices of corporate health plans, including Medicare Advantage plans.
Here’s more from Just Care:
- Coronavirus: Update on Medicare Advantage and other coverage
- Why mixing Medicare with commercial insurance is not the health reform we need
- Ten ways Medicare Advantage plans differ from traditional Medicare
- Traditional Medicare protects people from unexpected costs
- Enrolling in Medicare? Here’s a checklist