Expanding Medicare Draws Industry Ire, Tepid Support From Advocates, House Dem

One part of a fresh compromise proposal on the public option is a major expansion of Medicare, the federal program for people 65 and older and the disabled. The change is meant to help people 55 to 64 by giving them a chance to buy into the program, but lobbyists for insurers, doctors and hospitals say it would give their clients a raw deal, Kaiser Health News reports. They argued that "Medicare already doesn't pay enough. Adding more people would compel hospitals, doctors and others to jack up charges to private insurers and employers to make up the difference, they warned." Advocates for retirees and Medicare patients welcomed the idea in theory, but noted that their support would hinge on still-secret details of the plan (Appleby and Carey, 12/9).

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he believes the plan is "an idea worth consideration," Roll Call reports. "The No. 2 House Democrat couched the assessment by stating he did not want to 'anticipate what is acceptable or not acceptable' in the Senate. But he also pointed to the difficulty of finding 60 Senate votes on a reform package, and he praised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) 'herculean' efforts to forge consensus" (Newmyer, 12/8).

At any rate, the Associated Press is reporting that the strategy would only be a temporary fix. "The Medicare 'buy-in' for those age 55 to 64 would be available until 2014. That's when government subsidies would start for new health insurance markets designed for Americans who have trouble getting and keeping affordable coverage" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 12/8).

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