During his campaign for the White House, Joe Biden promised he would lower Medicare's eligibility age from 65 to 60. Democratic lawmakers have taken up the cause but have thus far failed to advance major Medicare reform through Congress.
That's a good thing. To understand why, consider a report published this month by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO found that lowering Medicare's eligibility age to 60 would add 7.3 million people to the program's rolls and increase the federal deficit by $155 billion between 2026 and 2031.
The healthcare entitlement program can barely afford to cover its current beneficiaries. Medicare Part A's hospital insurance trust fund will run out of money by 2030, according to the CBO. Medicare's trustees peg insolvency even earlier — in 2026.
Lowering Medicare's eligibility age will only hasten its financial demise — all in the name of enrolling millions of disproportionately well-off seniors who already have health insurance.
Since they're usually in more advanced stages of their career, individuals aged 55-64 have higher median incomes — about $59,000 per year — than the average American. Only people between the ages of 45 and 54 have higher salaries.
Americans between 55 and 64 also have the lowest uninsured rate of any nonelderly age group — just under 9%. Nearly two-thirds are enrolled in employer-sponsored plans.
Expanding Medicare would effectively swap their private insurance for taxpayer-funded public coverage. The CBO report concluded that 3.2 million fewer people would have employment-based plans if the Medicare eligibility age were reduced to 60.
Meanwhile, Medicare at 60 would only reduce the number of people without insurance by 400,000.
In other words, lowering the Medicare eligibility age wouldn't meaningfully reduce the number of uninsured people. But it would dramatically increase the number of people on government health insurance — and bring the nation one step closer to single-payer healthcare.
Sally C. Pipes (@sallypipes) is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020).