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Medicare Buy-In Proposal Could Begin In 2010

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There is "growing enthusiasm" for a proposal that would make Medicare coverage available to more consumers as early as next year, a Democratic source with knowledge of health care negotiations tells the Huffington Post.

Throughout the day, Senate Democrats have been feeling out a supplemental compromise to the public option that would allow consumers between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare. The sticking point, at least for progressives, has been how quickly such coverage will be made available.

Now, it appears, negotiators are making headway to ensure that the expansion would take place at a far quicker pace than any proposed public option. According to the well-placed source, Democrats are rallying behind a proposal that would allow a portion of the 55-64 year old age group to buy in to the Medicare system as early as 2010. By contrast, a public plan for insurance coverage would not come into being until 2014.

This would be a major breakthrough in the context of negotiations. Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who was responsible for pushing the buy-in proposal among Senate Democrats this past week, told Think Progress that he backed the idea, but only if it was available from day one. A Democratic aide on the Hill confirmed that discussions about a start date for such a Medicare buy-in proposal were, indeed, taking place. Though the Hill source cautioned that discussions are fluid.

In addition to debating a potential start date for a Medicare buy-in proposal, Senate Democrats are also in negotiations over who, exactly, should be allowed to qualify for the expanded Medicare program. At this juncture, it doesn't appear that everyone in the 55-64-age bracket would be granted access. Negotiators are considering limiting consumers to those who would qualify for high-risk insurance pools already set up under the Senate's health care legislation. This would mean primarily those who have been uninsured for a certain amount of time, have a history of poor health or are unable to get insurance because of a preexisting condition. The Senate has already earmarked $5 billion for subsidies for this group to buy insurance and may increase that total to help them pay for Medicare coverage -- should it become available to those under 65 and above 55 years of age.

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