Even though raising the Medicare retirement age is both deeply unpopular with voters and a terrible policy that saves the federal government only a modest amount of money, it is still treated by the Washington media as an idea to be seriously considered. During what little TV news I’ve watched in the past week, I have seen multiple elected Democrats asked about it. If we are going to be discussing changing Medicare eligibility age to reduce the deficit what we should be talking about is lowering it.
The CBO has previously stated that offering a public option partially based on Medicare rate to everyone in the new Affordable Care Act exchanges would save roughly $15 billion a year. This means if we were to only allow adults between, say, the ages 50-65 on the exchange to effectively “buy into Medicare early,” it should produce smaller but still real savings for the federal government.
What makes an early Medicare buy-in a good deficit reduction idea is that it is also just good policy. Unlike raising the Medicare retirement age, which would force millions of regular Americans to pay more for health care, creating an early Medicare buy-in would save both the government and regular people money. Politically, an early Medicare buy-in is also radically more popular with voters.
Of course, it is only the unpopular ideas that make regular people worse off that are considered serious in this current debate. The “deficit debate” really isn’t about reducing government spending or making it more efficient.
It is sacrifice in the most traditional sense of the word. There seems to be a belief among our leaders and top media organizations that if we do the fiscal equivalent of throwing enough old people into a volcano, the market gods will finally show us favor with a bountiful harvest.
Photo by pierre c. 38 under Creative Commons license.