We already knew House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan can't give up on his dream of ending Medicare as we know it to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporate special interests. What most folks didn't know, because the media haven't reported it, is that Ryan's 2014 budget would raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from the current 65. Ryan didn't mention the age switch in his budget document, but one of his staffers spilled the beans under questioning from Rep. Chris Van Hollen at a committee meeting last week (at the 31:13 mark on the video).
Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 would make it even harder for people to retire, let alone retire with any security. It would shift costs to seniors, states and employers without reducing the actual cost of health care by one penny.
While it would reduce Medicare expenditures by $5.7 billion in 2014, it would add $11.4 billion in health care costs picked up by states, employers and seniors, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's a cost shift and a cost increase.
The Congressional Budget Office assumes that half of 65- and 66-year-old seniors would continue employer-sponsored coverage at a cost of about $4.5 billion in 2014. Raising the eligibility age would likely accelerate the long-term decline in corporate benefits for retirees.
And, of course, seniors would lose in the deal. Two thirds of those ages 65 and 66 would each average $2,200 more in out-of-pocket costs ($3.7 billion total) in 2014, even when accounting for subsidies to buy a plan on a health insurance exchange.
There's another significant but less obvious cost shift through increased premiums in Medicare and in the exchange. Seniors ages 65 and 66 are the healthiest and least expensive Medicare beneficiaries, and they help lower premiums for all enrollees. Moving them to private coverage, where they would be the least healthy and most expensive health plan members, would also drive up premiums for everyone in the exchanges.
The Ryan budget, which was a centerpiece of the failed Romney-Ryan ticket in the 2012 election, aims to end Medicare as we know it and add thousands of dollars a year to seniors' health care costs by herding new enrollees into a privatized Medicare program as current Medicare enrollees become older and sicker. That would increase costs in the traditional Medicare program, which has always been far more efficient and cost-effective than private insurance.
Over the last few weeks, more people have started to notice that health care spending has gone down a lot since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law -- so much so that the official projections cited by Republican deficit scolds were wrong and are being replaced by a vastly improved budget outlook. That makes it even more outrageous that Ryan wants to repeal Obamacare and cut preventive benefits and drug discounts for seniors now and in the future, while shaving years off the life of the Medicare trust fund.
Ryan's proposal seems more like sleight of hand than legitimate cost control. It's about weakening Medicare, not strengthening the program for future generations.
The Ryan budget has no legitimate health care reform proposals -- it's just another GOP attack on our country's shrinking middle class and the promise of the American Dream.