‘Medicare for More’ Campaign Kicks Off With Buy-In Legislation

A group of Democrats introduced a measure to extend Medicare to people at least 50 years old, saying the proposal is a practical step toward insuring more Americans.

The coalition, headed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Reps. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), said their bill is more reasonable than “Medicare for All” proposals that would overhaul the entire insurance system. Under their measure, Americans between 50 and 64 years of age could buy into Medicare.

“It’s something we could actually get done and it will matter, it will affect a lot of people’s lives and it will make it easier to ultimately get universal coverage,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a potential presidential hopeful who has pushed to let people buy into Medicare starting at 55.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

Wednesday’s introduction of the Medicare buy-in bill comes weeks ahead of the planned unveiling of a “Medicare for All” measure in the House. Supporters of each say the proposals aren’t competing, but Democrats are jostling to define exactly where their party stands on how to build on the Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148).

Several Democrats already vying for their party’s presidential nomination have endorsed both “Medicare for All,” which aims to make government the sole insurer for most Americans, and proposals like Medicare buy-in, which would expand the federal health insurance program but keep most of the private insurance industry intact. Brown, however, is willing to dismiss the more-ambitious proposal.

Supporters of these more-modest approaches to expanding coverage say disrupting the entire country’s insurance market will be a heavy lift for a future Congress. Lowering the eligibility age for Medicare could be done quickly and cheaply, they say.

“This could happen immediately,” Higgins said.

Sponsors also pointed out the change targets the most-expensive age demographic for insurers: pre-Medicare age seniors. Baldwin said removing these people from the ACA’s individual markets could make plans cheaper for young people, as insurers won’t be paying for more costly seniors.

Tough Road Ahead

The buy-in proposal is in line to get consideration in the House: Higgins endorsed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the top spot in their party only after she agreed to give his bill air time this session.

However, Pelosi also agreed to Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-Wash.) demand that her “Medicare for All” proposal be considered by a pair of committees this session.

Both ideas are getting substantial pushback from health industry groups. Provider groups have said expanding Medicare would hurt those currently in the program.

“Instead of focusing on Medicare buy-ins and other variations of single-payer proposals, Congress should work to sustain and expand affordable private coverage,” Chip Kahn, president and chief executive officer of the Federation of American Hospitals, said in a statement. “Medicare should be left alone to continue its successful mission of making sure seniors have access to care.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com