President Biden campaigned on providing greater access to healthcare, including lowering the eligible age for Medicare enrollees to 60 years old. While this change is missing from his recently released American Families Plan, the policy framework reaffirms the administration’s commitment to lowering the enrollment age for Medicare. According to a recent survey from healthinsurance.com, it’s a move 75% of Americans can get behind.
After all, the qualifying age for Medicare has been 65 ever since the program was put in place over 50 years ago. If we dropped it by just five years to those 60 years and over, it could add as many as 23 million people to the national health insurance program.
While we don’t currently have a crisis of uninsured adults between 60-65, this is the age group that tends to spend the most on healthcare. Right now, about 8% of people in that age bracket are uninsured — the lowest rate among adults. About 13 million have health insurance from their employer, and another 4 million are covered through Medicaid — not to be confused with Medicare, Medicaid is state-federal insurance for low-income people.
However, people 55 years and over account for more than half of our total healthcare spending. That’s not surprising, since most health conditions can rear their heads, or worsen, as we age. Consider that women are more likely to experience a heart attack or other heart disease after age 50. For men, that age is 45. Aging also increases our risk for high blood pressure, which can lead to a host of other health concerns. If you have aging parents like I do, then you know their trips to the doctor office tend to increase exponentially right around 60 years old.
It’s understandable and advisable to give older Americans more careful consideration when it comes to health services. The need is even greater when you consider one-in-five adults report that they would be unable to afford quality healthcare if the need arose. Almost half of Americans between ages 50-64 are worried about affording healthcare in retirement. They’re also “three times as likely to avoid healthcare services.”
Lowering the Medicare eligibility age could provide a lifeline for adults over 60 who could use the extra coverage — even if they currently have insurance through their employer. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that changes to employment status can happen unexpectedly, and workers who lose their job at 60 generally have a more difficult time finding employment that can provide the healthcare benefits they need. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found workers over 40 were about half as likely to get a job offer as someone younger after employers factored in their age.
Employers may also benefit from the switch. A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that lowering the Medicare age to 60 “could reduce costs for employer health plans by as much as 15%” if all eligible employees made the switch. If it was dropped to 50 years old, the cost for employer plans could drop by as much as 43%. As countless businesses work to bring staff back online after the pandemic, cost savings on health insurance could play a huge role in COVID-19 recovery.
Lowering the Medicare age could give older Americans the best of both worlds -- the option to maintain their employer-sponsored insurance as well as enroll in Medicare coverage. This would give millions peace of mind knowing their health needs will be covered, even if they lose their job or choose to retire early.
Interestingly, proposals to lower the Medicare enrollment age are popular across party lines as well as with the general public. Around 85% of Democrats and almost 70% of Republicans support allowing those as young as 50 to enroll in the program. In a post-COVID-19 world, lowering the Medicare age could be just what the doctor ordered.
Jan Dubauskas is a healthcare expert, enthusiastic insurance pro, attorney and mom serving as Vice President of healthinsurance.com
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