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Senate Dems May Open Up Medicare To Pacify "Progressives"

Sam Stein

Senate Democrats are discussing the idea of expanding Medicare by
lowering the age at which the elderly could enter the government-run
insurance program, Democratic sources on the Hill tell the Huffington

The proposal would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65
to 55, though an age limit of 60 has also been suggested. Crucial
details -- such as the timing of the implementation of such a reform --
were not provided due to the sensitivity and ongoing nature of the
deliberations. A high-ranking Democratic source off the Hill confirmed
that such discussions are taking place.

Lowering the floor for Medicare is one of several ideas being
discussed as a way to pacify progressives upset over the potential
elimination of a public option for insurance coverage, one of the
sources added. Senate Democrats held discussions this past weekend
about replacing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's version of a public
plan with one that would be non-profit-based. The alternative proposal
would be offered in state exchanges, run by private insurers but
monitored by the Office of Personnel Management.

"The Office Personal Management proposal that has been out there for
the past couple days is one of the leading ideas to represent the
public option in a modified bill. But there are a series of things that
progressives are negotiating in exchange for dropping the [public
option] opt-out," said the source.

Expanding Medicare would likely prove to be a tempting olive branch
to progressives in the Senate. Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, in
addition to championing such a proposal during the 2004 presidential
campaign, has long discussed framing the public plan as an extension of
Medicare, one of the most popular government-run programs in the

But there are potential complications with the compromise proposal.
Medicare already is on an increasingly expensive financial track,
though efforts to cut some of the budgetary waste from the system have
met with forceful pushback from moderates and Republicans in the
Senate. In addition, the Senate weakened a proposed Medicare
Commission, which would have been granted autonomy to suggest or pursue
money-saving proposals.

"Moderates have made a whole campaign about how Medicare bankrupts
hospitals and doctors," said one Democratic health care strategist. "So
I doubt they'd go for [the lowering the Medicare age buy-in proposal].
And for progressives, well, it's not much of an olive branch. It
doesn't solve the problem [of reforming the private industry]."

UPDATE: Politico reports on a slight variation of the proposal above:

The group of 10 Democrats working to break an impasse on
the government insurance option are considering changes to other parts
of the bill, including creating a Medicare buy-in, according to
multiple officials familiar with the talks.

The Medicare buy-in could allay the concerns of progressives, who
are being pressured to abandon the public option. It would allow people
younger than 65 to purchase coverage in the popular government program
for the elderly -- and it would be a significant win for Democrats, who
have been seeking this change for years.

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