Medicare Buy-In Plan's Cost May Deter Centrist Lawmakers, Potential Customers

Some Democrats' idea to open Medicare to certain people aged 55 and older raises the question of whether premiums would be affordable enough.

USA Today: "Indeed, buying into Medicare at 55 — an option that may be added to the Senate's plan to revamp the health care system — might not be such a bargain." (Such details will remain under wraps until a Congressional Budget Office analysis is complete.) Earlier estimates by the CBO suggested the program may cost $7,600 a year in premiums, over 50 percent than the average individual plan on the private market. That cost may deter many healthy patients, but would leave the program open to sicker people (Wolf, 12/13).

But, the issues of "who will get access, how much it will cost and who will pay" must be settled on Capitol Hill, the Chicago Tribune reports. "Those issues have already sparked a new round of lobbying by doctors, hospitals and other interest groups opposed to an expansion of the nation's most powerful government insurance program, which often pays less than private insurers," according to the report (Levey and Oliphant, 1forg2/13).

Opposition to the plan has arrived among lawmakers as well as lobbyists. "Two key senators on Sunday raised concerns over one aspect of a proposed compromise on the health-care bill, putting up a hurdle to passage of the measure in the Senate," The Wall Street Journal reports. Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., voiced their opposition. Lieberman called it "unnecessary," while Nelson said it may be the "forerunner of single-payer" (Williamson and Hitt, 12/14).

"The bill's supporters had said earlier that they thought they had secured Mr. Lieberman's agreement to go along with a compromise they worked out to overcome an impasse within the Democratic Party," The New York Times reports. "A Senate Democratic aide, perplexed by Mr. Lieberman's stance, said, 'It was a total flip-flop, and leaves us in a predicament as to what to do'" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 12/13).

The Los Angeles Times has a Q&A on the buy-in idea (Oliphant and Geiger, 12/14). 

Related KHN story: Democrats' Ideas To Expand Medicare Raise Hackles Of Doctors, Hospitals, Insurers (Appleby and Carey, 12/9).

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