Political Animal


December 08, 2012 11:25 AM Medicare Eligibility Age on the Table?

By Adele Stan

In Washington, when a rumor just won’t die, it begins to look like strategy. And one rumor that has Washington riveted is the potential for a deal on the fiscal shenanigans needed to stave off sequester that would raise the eligibility age for Medicare.

Reader c u n d gulag points us to the latest warning, from none other than the esteemed Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who blogs it under the headline, “I Hope This Isn’t True.”

Earlier this week, Brother Kilgore wrote of invective aimed at New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait for his suggestion that, despite the fact that a raise in eligibility age would cost the federal government billions and billions more than if the current eligibility age of 65 were maintained, it might be worth trading away to the Republicans in order to avoid the fiscal insanity that is sequester. (No, I won’t call it that thing that rhymes with “riff”.)

But the added cost is not the trigger for the invective; that comes from this: Raise the eligibility age and PEOPLE WILL DIE.

No, that’s not an exaggeration, and the failure of certain wonks to take that into consideration speaks to their isolation from everyday people, even the everyday people who provide services to them, such as grocery-store clerks, waitresses, and construction workers in right-to-work states. These are people who cannot wait until they’re 67 for the full complement of Medicare benefits. Many of them are people who will wind up paying the individual mandate penalty in Obamacare, because even if purchased through an exchange, the monthly premium will be more than they can afford.

Not to mention the added health risks of doing physical labor into one’s golden years. Many of these people are lucky to make it to 65. As my AlterNet colleague Lynn Parramore notes, “longevity gains have gone mostly to high earners.” More from Parramore:

Life expectancy among the less educated and those with lower incomes has actually dropped. New research shows that between 1990 and 2008, white women lacking a high school diploma lost a shocking five years of life, while their male peers lost three years.

But if everyone in your family is college-educated and has a good job with adequate health insurance, why would it even cross your mind that not everybody does?

Here’s my hope: that this rumor is being floated in order to create enormous pushback from the left that would give Obama cover for rejecting it. Time to push.


  • Clueless VSP like Jon Chait on December 08, 2012 12:22 PM:

    "But the added cost is not the trigger for the invective; that comes from this: Raise the eligibility age and PEOPLE WILL DIE."

    Are we sure this is bad? Serious pundits like me will discuss this on awesome Sunday shows and CW pushing publications!

  • schtick on December 08, 2012 12:24 PM:

    If they raise the age they won't need death panels. So then they won't be responsible for killing people, but they can still blame the dems. Does that sound like teapub reasoning enough?

    crapcha....inishcar antidumping....antidumping?

  • Matt on December 08, 2012 12:24 PM:

    Hahaha cundgulag got a shout out from the staff. Nice.

  • DougMN on December 08, 2012 12:48 PM:

    Sigh... tis a pain to have to pushback on stupid from your own side.

  • Mudge on December 08, 2012 12:51 PM:

    My accountant suggested that the Medicare age issue is being approached all wrong. He says Medicare should stop at 80, to remove the sickest group from coverage. That will save the most money. Lowering the starting age to 55 would be possible then as well. The over 80s crowd can all go to Obamacare at that point.

    Of course he was being sarcastic, but if PEOPLE WILL DIE..that's the age change that will save the most money. I'm sure the Republicans will embrace it.

  • Steve on December 08, 2012 12:52 PM:

    This is the exact wrong way to go. During the ACA fight an idea was floated to actually reduce the Medicare eligibility age to 60. This is the way to sneak America into a single payer system, and the Obama administration would give Republicans and our current private health care system a big win by moving in the other direction.

  • Aaron Morrow on December 08, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Even-the-neoliberal Matt Yglesias knows that this is a bad idea on the merits:


    If Ed Kilgore wants to defend granny starvers, he needs to understand what happens when you starve my grandma.

  • TaosJohn on December 08, 2012 1:36 PM:

    What is this cruel nonsense about geezers being able to buy some other insurance to cover ages 65-67??? When I became eligible for Medicare, I hadn't been insured for a number of years because of being too damn poor. Medicare may have saved my effing life, you may be sure. But the thing is, Medicare costs about $100/mo that comes out of Social Security.


    The very idea is insulting, outrageous, stupendously mean, and utterly unnecessary.

  • c u n d gulag on December 08, 2012 1:53 PM:

    Thank you for the shout-out, Ms. Stan!

    So, with 'The Fiscal Molehill' looming, President Obama sits, holding a Royal Flush - and seems ready to fold to an Orange Joker holding a pair of dueces.

    WTF is wrong with him?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    Jayzoos H. Keeeeeeeeerist, spurning eternal salvation for a hamburger that he can have today, are you completely tone-deaf, Mr. President?

    I want – nay – DEMAND, that Nancy Pelosi be allowed back in the negotiations!

    Raise the Medicare eligibility age? Are you feckin’ kiddin’ me?!?!?!
    Why not just put a gun to the head of every Democratic politician in the country and pull the trigger, Mr. President?
    And shoot us voters, too, while you’re at it – you’d be doing us a favor.

    You, by raising the eligibility age, President Obama, YOU, will have given the Republicans the gift that will keep on giving for years, if not decades!
    They will beat the Democrats with this in future elections like they were rented red-headed mules!

    And for what? Raising the age does virtually nothing to lower the deficit.


    I sure as sh*t hope this is some o’ that ’11th Dimensional Chess” I keep hearing about!

    I need a drink!

  • Nancy Cadet on December 08, 2012 1:54 PM:

    Adele, thanks for continuing to highlight this issue. Lots of college-educated workers don't have employer sponsored insurance. In fact , I teach at a large university and after having fought for years to get insurance for adjunct faculty (who teach full time hours for minimal pay) , that fund is now out of money, and no amount of pressure has succeeded in forcing the management to replenish it, during our contract negotiations.

    Many people desperately need health care , cant afford it and can't qualify for disability (especially single adults) or Medicaid. Chait et al need to spend a few weeks on SNAP benefits , in a men's shelter, with no dental or medical care.

    We have every right to criticize and debate him, and I thank Digby, Atrios, Dayen, and Krugman for their analyses and advocacy. Needless to say, my friends in Western Europe can't believe the passivity of American workers and the stupidity of our poltics.

  • Cranky Observer on December 08, 2012 1:56 PM:

    Did you sign up to work weekends for the alternate-universe not-neoliberal Washington Monthly? Because I'm pretty sure capitulating to the Republicans on chopping Social Security and Medicare is part of the Peters' original Neoliberal Manifesto.


    antquo following - 1st try

  • MuddyLee on December 08, 2012 2:11 PM:

    America is a tough place to live and work for those who don't have white collar college educated type jobs. Medicare age should be lowered, not raised. If you want to reform it, charge co-pays or higher rates for people who are well off. And don't do harm to Medicaid - the poor need it and most of elderly in nursing homes are dependent on it to stay alive. Thanks for this posting, Adele.

  • FlipYrWhig on December 08, 2012 2:18 PM:

    What's the reason to treat this as a proposal Obama or Democrats are actually entertaining, rather than think-tankers and wonks blue-skying random crap?

  • Adele Stan on December 08, 2012 2:29 PM:

    Nancy Cadet: Good point about the college-educated. Take, for instance, the many journalists who now work as independent contractors, not to mention the many college-educated people working behind cash registers in the Mid-West and elsewhere.

    Cranky: I have lived my entire life in an alternate universe. My day job even happens to be at a place called AlterNet, in whose universe I toil.

    FlipYrWhig: The usual Washington reason: Very Serious People (thank you, Atrios, for that term) are saying so. And they have sources, or so they say.

  • hells littlest angel on December 08, 2012 2:34 PM:

    What FlipYrWhig said. I guess I hope it's not true that I'll be killed by orcs tomorrow, but I have real things to worry about.

  • parsimon on December 08, 2012 3:03 PM:

    Here’s my hope: that this rumor is being floated in order to create enormous pushback from the left that would give Obama cover for rejecting it. Time to push.

    That occurred to me as well.

  • claude on December 08, 2012 3:07 PM:

    Not that I know whether or not this could work, but what if:
    1) the medicare age was allowed to rise to 67, but:
    2) a public option was made available that provided medicare at its cost, and
    3) the age of eligibility for the public option is lowered.

  • T2 on December 08, 2012 3:30 PM:

    Raising the age doesn't do a whole lot for the deficit, because it will be phases over 10 years or so. It's 65 now....so it goes to 66 in a few years, Congress passes a law keeping it there....or not and it goes up another year....really, is this so bad? No, I say. BUT, in the unlikely event Republicans come back to power....they will use the change from 65 to 67 as an excuse to start dismantling it all, which is their real plan. It basically gets their foot in the door, which is why it shouldn't happen.

  • biggerbox on December 08, 2012 3:48 PM:

    I understand that the Very Serious People in the Beltway really believe that we need to cut entitlements, but that doesn't make it true, any more than when they all believed Iraq had WMDs and was working on delivering a mushroom cloud.

    How about this deal? We DON'T touch Medicare, we extend the tax break for all but the rich, and, in exchange, the GOP doesn't get blamed for raising everyone's taxes and being too stubborn to agree with a reasonable offer?

    Democrats shouldn't give ANYTHING to the GOP for once.

    (It's not Medicare that is the problem, it's underlying health-care costs, which we've already targeted with Obamacare measures, which are just starting to work.)

  • Habermass on December 08, 2012 4:45 PM:

    Thanks for the blog. Not only has Krugman weighed in: Suzy Kliff of Ezra Klein's Wonkblog on December provided excellent numbers on why this idea is really bad. It saves the Feds a bit of money, and costs states, younger seniors, non-senior members of Health Insurance Exchanges, and very probably over 67 Medicare enrollees more. The net cost to society is easily more than the Federal savings.

    This is a bad idea: fiscally, politically, economically.


  • Floyd Alvis Cooper on December 08, 2012 6:52 PM:

    People live longer now than when Medicare was instituted (even working-class people). That's an actuarial problem, and denying this fact helps nothing, and this needs to be addressed. Quite simply, we DO need to decrease the average amount of time that a person draws upon Medicare. But the correct way to do this is to change the UPPER age limit.

    Right now there is no upper age limit. You can draw upon Medicare if you're 110 or even older. That makes no sense from an actuarial or social standpoint. We need an upper limit -- as a talking point, let's say 85 (we'd need to do some complicated analysis to get the actual best figure).

    Consider: first of all, a 65-year-old person, even if retired, is valuable to society. They babysit, which helps labor force flexibility. They volunteer. They are relatively active and engaged in many aspects of society.

    An 85-year-old person, not so much. They are relatively decrepit and can't do as much. This doesn't make them bad people, it's just a simple fact. Their grandchildren are typically old enough to not need close care, which they are typically no longer up to providing, and so forth. From an economic and social standpoint, they are typically of comparatively little worth.

    Secondly, an 85-yer-old is statistically likely to need more, and more expensive, medical care than a 65-year-old. This at a time when their social worth is much less. Not to be hard-hearted, but this is fact. It is better to deal with facts than deny them.

    Persons 85 and older can (and should!) be provided with pallative care. Anything beyond that is a waste of social resources. Should we take away resources from children and job-creators and so forth for this? I would say not.

  • Fred on December 08, 2012 7:10 PM:

    Changing tax rates is like renegotiating a lease. In a few years it will be renegotiated again.
    Changing Medicare age is like knocking out a wall. It will never go back the way it was and opens up the possibility of future major remodeling creativity.


    *And I don't even have Medicare yet. But it's still mine dammit!

  • MsJoanne on December 08, 2012 9:53 PM:

    Why are they looking to raise the age of eligibility instead of lowering it? I'd pay premiums into Medicare. I'm healthy and cough up $580 a month in premiums. I'd rather pay it to Medicare!

    Someone float THAT idea by anyone who matters!!

  • MsJoanne on December 08, 2012 10:04 PM:

    FCH, what about all the people who paid into Medicare year after year who die before they use it once?

    Talk about death panels! You're one cold hearted MoFo.

  • Procopius on December 09, 2012 12:01 AM:

    Chait defends his recommendation basically by saying, "But Obama HAS TO give the Republicans SOMETHING!!! And this has such great symbolic meaning to them I'm sure they'd love it." Which makes me think of a skit (?) I heard/read somewhere: He: "Darling here are some flowers I bought for you. I'm so very, very sorry to have made you angry. Please, please, tell me what I did that hurt you." She: "Well, if you don't know I'm certainly not going to say."

    What the Democrats have been doing for the last four years is to look for, and then offer, concessions that they think might sate the Republicans. What Obama needs to start doing is to say, "OK, I've laid out my plan, and you say you refuse it. So what is your plan? Don't say I have to provide more detail, I've provided plenty of detail. What do you want? I'm not making any new proposals until you give me a target to aim at. What, exactly, do you want?" Because the Republicans don't have any reply. Their goal is to destroy Obama, not to achieve any particular policy. Sure, they don't want to raise tax rates on people making over $250,000. They keep talking about "broadening the base and lowering rates" but until they get specific about what "tax expenditures" they are willing to remove there's no way to know what they mean by that. It's just a mantra repeated over and over until all meaning is gone. Until they say what programs they want cut, there's no way to know what would be acceptable. They don't want to say, because then people would blame them the cutting popular programs, so they won't say, and as long as they won't say there's no way forward.

  • dianne on December 09, 2012 2:31 AM:

    I can't imagine that the party that is ready to run Hilary in 2016 will intentionally throw up such a roadblock. To do anything to hurt the Medicare or Social Security recepients of the future will destroy her candidacy and the Dems will be justifiably pilloried for years. The Clintons will not allow this to happen after all they have done for Obama. Plus, they have +60% approval for keeping these programs going as they are.
    Why would they throw all that away?

  • Diane on December 09, 2012 2:48 PM:

    Seems to me the argument that to work over age 65 is detrimental to some because of health reasons is a phony subterfuge. If some are over 65 and unable to work they could, as many under 65 do today, go on Social Security Disability.
    The Social Security program is unsustainable in light of the FACT that people are living longer under a program that when initiated had very few living long past age 65.

    Social Security was formed not much different than a Ponzi scheme and now the scam is coming back to bite not those who pushed through this social blitzkrieg but upon those who eventually will have to bear the brunt of the bills due....children and grandchildren. But isn't that what socialism really is in the first place?..... A pass the buck down the road scheme.

  • Jimo on December 09, 2012 7:29 PM:

    But if Obama negotiated such a deal with the proviso that Republicans must also abandon attempts to "repeal" health care reform -- essentially making "early" retirement health insurance income-contingent since access to and subsidy for maintaining coverage would separately exist -- then wouldn't this be a win-win? Wouldn't that be the first step in bringing Obamacare and Medicare For All closer together?

    There's nothing wrong with trading away benefit today for potential loss tomorrow (or more accurately decades from now). We cannot bind our future selves. If people in 2030 or 2040 decide that delaying coverage does not make sense then they can undo it.

    This can be screwed up, to be sure. It can also be the mother of Trojan Horses.