Democrats are floating the idea of dropping the Medicare eligibility age for the first time in the program’s 55-year history.
Since Medicare’s inception in 1966, you’ve had to mark your 65th birthday before qualifying for the government health program.
But now President Joe Biden is reportedly considering changing the requirement to 60 years of age.
For millions of qualifying Americans, getting affordable health insurance would be life-changing, potentially saving them thousands of dollars a year on private-health-plan premiums, copays and out-of-pocket expenses.
Here’s what you need to know about the proposed reform — and what to do if you’re not yet close to entering your 60s.
What’s on the table?
Just last month, Biden signed his $1.9 trillion relief bill, which included the first major expansion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, since it became law in 2010.
Prominent lawmakers are now pushing for him to include the Medicare measure in his next spending bill, a followup to the recently announced infrastructure spending package.
The new bill is expected to be announced sometime in April.
“There are many millions of seniors who would be very, very grateful if we did that right now,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said recently. Sanders would like to see Biden push it even further by adding dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses to Medicare coverage.
What would it mean?
The lower age threshold could mean enormous savings for millions of Americans.
Right now, a 60-year-old person with an annual income of $51,000 — which is a little more than four times the poverty level — would have to pay a premium of $4,420 a year for a silver health plan on the Obamacare exchanges, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
And that number accounts for the recent increases in ACA subsidies, which Biden included in his COVID relief package.
If the Medicare age drops to 60, that $4,420 annual expense would disappear.
The proposed reform could even have life-saving implications.
A recent Stanford University study found that diagnoses of certain cancers are disproportionately higher among people 65 and older, compared to those 64 and younger.
The authors of the study concluded that “many people are delaying their care for financial reasons until they get health insurance through Medicare.”
Not everyone is on board
Democrats are almost certain to get pushback from both the more conservative members of their own party as well as Republicans and the health care community.
A number of Republicans have suggested the progressive members of the Democratic party are setting the party’s overall strategy on health care.
Hospital communities have voiced their concern that expanded health care would encourage more people to retire younger, which would negatively impact the workforce, and that it would also reduce the amount healthcare providers receive in reimbursements.
If Democrats hope to push through the bill, they’ll need nearly unanimous support from within their party.
But there’s reason to believe the public supports the move. Excluding Congress, 85% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans are in favor of lowering the Medicare age to as young as 50, according to a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
What if I’m not 60 yet?
While the proposed age drop only applies for those 60 and up, younger Americans can still expect to receive some health care benefits.
The Biden administration’s new Obamacare subsidies have made it easier for you to get affordable health insurance.
Thanks to the subsidies, which apply to plans available on healthcare.gov and other ACA exchanges during the current special enrollment period, anyone making more than $51,000 a year will be able to find coverage for about $1,000 less per month than before the bill was passed.
Where to go from here
While the new ACA subsidies took effect earlier this month, it may take a while for many Americans to see the change in their accounts.
If your budget is tight these days and you’ve already got a number of healthcare bills piling up, you may want to consider a lower-interest debt consolidation loan to give yourself some breathing room.
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With a little strategizing, you can change your own life, instead of waiting for bills to work their way through Congress. Then, when the government does offer you savings, you can use those funds just for fun.