Democrats Wary Of Medicare Benefits Cuts Being Discussed In Fiscal Talks

Talk of hiking costs for wealthier beneficiaries and increasing the program's eligibility age appear to make some Democrats nervous and may be causing difficulties in the Democratic caucus.

The Hill: Democrats Want GOP To Show Hand On Medicare In Deficit Negotiations
Democrats wary of accepting any entitlement benefits cuts are asking Republicans to show them their plans if they want to make Medicare means-testing a part of a lame-duck fiscal package. GOP leaders have floated the idea of hiking Medicare costs for wealthier beneficiaries – a proposal President Obama has repeatedly backed – as a condition of any deal to prevent a slew of tax hikes and spending cuts from taking hold Jan. 1. But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the GOP's point man in the negotiations, has declined to specify the Republicans' wish-list for entitlement reform – at least publicly. And it's unclear whether means-testing would be enough to win GOP support for a deal that would also hike tax rates on households with annual family income above $250,000 (Lillis, 12/16).

Los Angeles Times: Fault Lines Also Appearing On Democratic Side In Fiscal Debate
White House officials insist nothing is off the table, tacitly acknowledging that the president is weighing potential changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as he negotiates with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Although both sides have been reluctant to put details in writing, any deficit reduction deal will almost certainly require significant alterations to these entitlement programs. … The Democratic fault lines were apparent last week. More than 80 Democrats signed a letter to Obama urging him not to agree to a deal that would raise the eligibility age for Medicare. Obama had moved in that direction last year in a failed attempt to craft a "grand bargain" with Boehner, considering an increase phased in over time (Parsons, Memoli and Hennessey, 12/16).

The Hill: House Democrats Say Obama's Medicare Board Should Be Put On The Table
The healthcare law's controversial Medicare board should be on the table in deficit-reduction talks, House Democrats said this week. Killing the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which Sarah Palin decried as a "death panel" in June, could ease Republican concessions as part of a year-end deficit deal, Dems said. "I think everything has to be on the table," said Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), one of healthcare reform's most consistent Democratic opponents. "Anything that could help along the way to get some agreement," said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) (Viebeck 12/15).

Roll Call: CBC Pans Medicare Age Increase
An increase in the Medicare eligibility age, perhaps more than any other proposal getting bandied about in the fiscal cliff talks, would split President Barack Obama from the heart of his political base. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CQ Roll Call last week that his caucus has been supportive of the president, but he said raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 would present a tough choice between backing the president and protecting African-American seniors from bearing the brunt of the change. As Cleaver noted, African-Americans have much lower life expectancy than whites, so later eligibility affects them far more (Dennis, 12/16).

In addition, KHN takes a look at how health insurance tax inclusions could be in play.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Tax Exclusion For Health Benefits Could Be Part Of 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks
As the deficit debate continues, some policy wonks think it's inevitable that negotiators will address a loophole that allows workers to avoid paying taxes on the value of their job-based health insurance (Appleby, 12/14).

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