12/07/2012 01:26 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2013

Worked Over: Why Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age is a Bad Idea

Given the news out of Washington this week, you'd think the president and the Republicans in Congress couldn't agree that the sky is blue on a clear sunny day. Here's one thing I bet they'd all agree on: not one of them wants to be waiting tables, jack-hammering concrete or fixing electric wires when they're 67. But if the rumors are true that raising the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 is becoming a plausible component of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff, that's exactly what Congress and the president would ask of the American people.

Upping the Medicare age may look like a good idea on paper to those crafting this deal in D.C. -- but therein lies the problem. Ignored by the wonks in Washington is the difference between actual physical work -- in our members' cases, that often means climbing up utility poles to fix live wires in the middle of a storm -- and the more academic, behind-the-desk pursuits of the people proposing this change.

The people who need Medicare most at 65 are the men and women who literally put their backs into building this country. They do demanding work in factories and construction, pour steel in mills, build bridges and roads and more -- and they are often not physically able to put off retirement until they're nearly 70. Forcing them to continue performing tough physical work into their late 60s or risk losing their health care isn't an option our leaders should entertain.

And if you believe the Center for Budget Priorities and Policy and the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, it isn't an option that will save us any money, either. While making the change would net the federal government $5.7 billion in its first year of full implementation, purchasing those same benefits without the massive volume discounts Medicare is able to secure will cost states, employers and individuals $11.4 billion a year. In the words of Matt Yglesias, that's "akin to raising $12 billion in taxes and then setting half the money on fire."

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we all watched as linemen and troublemen from across the country, many of them IBEW members, headed to the East Coast. They did everything from repairing downed electric lines to clearing the roads of trees and wreckage, and they did it around the clock in freezing weather. Now imagine all those people are 67 years old. That's the world these negotiations are leading us to, and it's up to the American people and sensible members of Congress, like Minority Leader Pelosi, to stop it.