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Increasing Medicare Age of Eligibility May Not Be Off Table but Chances of Approval Look Dim

White House does not support statement by Sen. Durbin that issue is not on the table

Dec. 14, 2012 – Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that increasing the eligibility age for Medicare was no longer part of the budget negotiations with Republicans. This good news for older Americans not yet age 65 did not hold up, however, as McClatchy Newspapers report today that the White House will not confirm the measure is off the table in talks aimed at avoiding the fiscal cliff.

“Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Thursday that the Obama administration had assured him that the eligibility age ‘is no longer one of the items being considered by the White House,’” wrote McClatchy reporter Tony Pugh.

 “But White House spokesman Jay Carney walked back Durbin’s comments, saying, “We’re not going to engage in hypotheticals about what a package would look like tomorrow on the spending cut side, negotiated with the Republicans.”

 

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He also reported that in an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters that will be broadcast Friday night, Obama said it wasn’t clear that a higher eligibility age “saves a lot of money. But what I’ve said is, let’s look at every avenue.”

Sen. Durbin said he did not get the information directly from the president or the White House. But he is regularly apprised of the status of negotiations, reports the AP. (AP story by Andrew Taylor)

Increasing the Medicare age for eligibility has long been a favorite issue for many Republicans. It was also included in the budget proposal  last year that was presented by House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, who became the GOP vice presidential nominee.

The move, however, may not be as helpful to the budget as many assume, say Democrats.

“The Congressional Budget Office estimates that slowly hiking Medicare’s eligibility age by two months a year – from age 65 in 2014 to age 67 in 2027 – would cut program spending by $148 billion over the next decade. But it also would lead non-Medicare health expenditures to increase, lowering the overall federal savings to $113 billion, the CBO found,” according to McClatchy’s Pugh.

The Democrats also point to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation that says that if the eligibility age went from 65 to 67 in a year, costs to states and the private sector would be nearly twice as large as the federal savings: $11.4 billion versus $5.7 billion.

House Democrats, too, are lining up behind Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) against increasing Medicare's eligibility age as part of a year-end tax-and-spending package, according to a report yesterday in The Hill.

Pelosi rejected raising Medicare's eligibility age in an op-ed published Tuesday in USA Today, then doubled down on that position Wednesday. "We want what happens to be fair," she said in an interview on CBS's "This Morning" program. "And one of the things that we object to is raising the Medicare age" (Lillis, 12/12).

So, the topic may not be “off the table,” yet, but it is looking increasingly less likely that it is an idea that many Democrats will support.

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