A Deal That Raises the Medicare Age Is Not a Deal to Take

As fiscal negotiations continue in Washington, we’ve been hearing more talk about an increase in the eligibility age for Medicare (from 65 to 67) as a part of a deal. Of course there’s been nothing concrete proposed as legislation, but Speaker John Boehner suggested it as part of an offer last week.

Let’s be blunt: this is a bad idea, and an unacceptable one, for two big reasons.

The first reason it’s unacceptable is because it shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. Of all the things that make up the potential austerity crisis next year, Medicare represents exactly zero of them. Why would you need an austerity measure like kicking people off of Medicare as part of a deal to avert unnecessary austerity?

The second and more important reason it’s unacceptable is that it’s just awful policy. It represents a direct benefit cut to seniors. More than 400,000 people would lose their health care coverage if we were to increase the eligibility age to 67. It would save the federal government some money, but increase costs for recent retirees and employers by twice as much as it saves the government. And it would increase costs in Medicare itself by pulling the youngest, healthiest people out of the pool. “It will have real consequences for real people,” as economist Aaron Carroll notes.

So why are we even talking about this, if it’s so obviously bad for seniors, mathematically ridiculous and unrelated to the fiscal issues under negotiation? Because for the people in Boehner’s caucus, weakening Medicare is not an unfortunate side effect but a goal in itself. For Boehner and his allies, the fiscal negotiations are an opportunity to push through unpopular policies they’ve been hoping to achieve for years.

Note, too, that many of these Republicans in the House campaigned in 2010 and 2012 on the promise to protect Medicare—and note that Boehner has been incredibly non-specific about what changes he would make to Medicare benefits, frequently demanding that the White House be the one to specify Medicare cuts.

“We don’t think Medicare should exist, so please tell us how you will destroy it” is not a “deal” that takes more than three seconds of thought to laugh off.

We’re glad to see some leaders in Congress—like Rep. Nancy Pelosi—taking on this terrible idea directly and explaining why it shouldn’t be considered. And we’re glad to see President Obama supporting measures to help working-class and middle-class families, like extending unemployment insurance and investing in infrastructure jobs. Boehner really needs to forget about trying to wedge his quest to undermine Medicare into these negotiations.