As Democrats in the Senate discuss a compromise approach to health care reform centered on expanding Medicare, they should be encouraged by the fact that opposing sides of their caucus agreed on the proposal at one time.
On Monday, leadership in the Senate acknowledged that, in an attempt to bridge intraparty divisions, it was looking at a proposal that would allow consumers between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare. The approach, one of many under consideration, has its plaudits and critics. Progressives worry that it would do little to inject competition into the private market or offer additional advantages to those who still don't meet the age minimum. Others, however, have cheered the possibility of bringing millions of additional consumers into the popular government-run program.
At the very least, it appears likely to come closer than any other compromise suggestion to meeting the most basic of political demands: the 60 votes in the Senate needed to break a Republican filibuster. On Tuesday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) told reporters that he is open to the Medicare buy-in idea though, at this time, non-committal. "I'm open to looking at it," he said. "But I want to make sure that we're not...adding a big additional burden to the Medicare program."
Meanwhile, former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who was responsible for pushing the suggestion among Senate Democrats this past week, told Think Progress that he favored the proposal provided it was available on day one.
Indeed, support for lowering the age for Medicare access has been around for roughly a decade. Back when Al Gore suggested the buy-in proposal during the 2000 presidential election, Democrats largely hailed it as a smart approach to expanding coverage. The list included Gore's vice presidential nominee, Lieberman, now one of the most conservative member of the Democratic caucus, as well as then-Ohio congressman Sherrod Brown, now one of the caucus's firmest progressives.
On August 11, 2000, the Ohio State News Service profiled Brown as he was set to head to the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Then the ranking member on the U.S. House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, he listed as his top priorities the expansion "of health care to uninsured children and providing Medicare to people ages 55 to 64."
"I hope that what comes out of the convention is that the voters pay attention to the issues that are important -- school construction, minimum wage, prescription drugs and the expansion of Medicare," Brown said at the time.
Lieberman, naturally, was even more praiseworthy of the approach proposed by the man heading the presidential ticket. At an appearance in Maine in November 2000, he noted that he and Gore wanted to expand Medicare specifically because the fastest-growing group of uninsured were those between 55 and 65 years old. He even pitched the buy-in's bipartisan appeal.
"The kinds of proposals that Al Gore and I are making are the result of what we learned over the last eight years, and they're designed to be acceptable to both parties in Congress," Lieberman said, according to a Bangor Daily News article.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reporting weeks earlier about a speech Lieberman gave in New Mexico, described the scene as follows:
"Standing on stage in front of a blue and white banner that read "Fair Treatment; Affordable Choices; Quality Care," Lieberman said he and Gore plan to expand the Children's Health Insurance program (CHIP) to cover every child in America by 2005. Gore has described that goal as a first step toward health insurance coverage for all Americans.
For children who don't automatically qualify for CHIP and whose parents work for companies that do not offer health insurance, Lieberman said they should be able to buy into the CHIP program.
For older Americans, Lieberman supported an opportunity to buy in to Medicare with 25 percent tax credit."