Do you remember the Barbie doll that said “Math is hard!”? Maybe someone needs to make a John Boehner doll that says the same thing, because the latest budget proposal from the House Speaker shows he’s having trouble coming up with math that adds up.
If you've been following our newsletter (sign up here), you may have read our earlier story on the battle over the federal budget, deficit reduction proposals and the so-called fiscal cliff, you know that some important women’s health programs are at risk – including parts of the Affordable Care Act health care law, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. And if you’re reading news reports this week, you know that Boehner and his Republican colleagues in Congress have put forward a proposal that threatens Medicare in a very specific way – and it’s a way that makes no mathematical sense.
The proposal is to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67, so you would have to wait two extra years before you would be able to get health care through Medicare. This would save the federal government money because it would no longer have to pay for health care for people who are 65 and 66 years old.
But what supporters of the proposal don’t like to talk about is that those 65 and 66-year-old seniors will still have health care needs that will cost money and those health care dollars will still have to be paid by someone. Turns out that someone is us! This proposal isn’t actually about reducing health care spending; it’s just about shifting the costs for health care for those seniors from the federal government to seniors, employers and state health care programs.
What’s worse, the Kaiser Family Foundation did a study showing that raising the age of eligibility for Medicare would not only shift the costs – it would actually double them! The federal government would save $5.7 billion, but everyone else would have to spend more than $11.4 billion to cover the health care costs of the seniors who got dropped from Medicare.
And worse still, this change would do disproportionate harm to seniors of color and people whose jobs require physical labor. Seniors of color are more likely to have health problems at a younger age, so the delay in getting into Medicare could mean they suffer through extra years when their health care needs aren’t being met. Native Americans and African Americans would be losing the most because they have shorter life expectancies, on average, meaning that the two year Medicare postponement cuts out a larger proportion of their time in the Medicare program even though they will have paid Medicare taxes through their whole working life, just like workers of other races.
People who do physical labor would also be hurt because they’re less likely to be able to keep working to maintain employer-based insurance for the extra years when the proposal would leave them without Medicare. It’s one thing to continue working as a partner in a law firm or behind a CEO’s desk when you’re 65, and another thing to scrub floors or do construction work when you no longer have the physical stamina you did at 25.
Making people wait longer for Medicare will hurt seniors, cutting their benefits and leaving more of them without the health care they need. It will also increase health care costs for businesses and states and push the price of health insurance premiums up for all of us. That doesn’t sound like a conservative solution – in fact, it doesn’t sound like a solution at all.
Tell your member of Congress not to shift Medicare costs on to us!