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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Editorial: Expanding Medicare is a proposal worth debating – The Day

August 21, 2017
In The News

Most Americans want Congress to set aside politics and search for common-sense solutions that build upon the efforts of the Affordable Care Act rather than tear it down with no viable alternative. The “Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act,” to be introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and two other congressmen, is such a common-sense proposal.

Courtney, a Democrat representing the 2nd District that covers the eastern half of Connecticut, has made access to health care a policy priority throughout his political career.

If the bill became law, people ages 50-64 in the individual insurance market would have the option to pay premiums for Medicare insurance coverage, now only available to those 65 and older. Because of Medicare’s size — more than 55 million Americans take part — the government can negotiate lower costs than private insurers.

The office of Rep. John Larson, who serves the 1st District and will join Courtney in introducing the bill, estimated that a 60-year-old buying into Medicare would be expected to pay $8,212 annually in premiums, compared to the $13,308 cost of a comparable “gold plan” on an ACA health exchange.

Small businesses could also buy Medicare coverage for their employees 50 and older and benefit from the premium savings.

The third co-sponsor introducing the bill is Brian Higgins of New York. All are Democrats. The three expect to file the bill, with an additional dozen co-sponsors, when Congress returns from its August recess.

With Republicans in control of Congress, it will take some GOP support to move the bill forward. Republicans would do well to set aside the Obamacare attacks and consider this legislation.

Moving people as young as 50 into Medicare on an opt-in basis would make that popular program’s population larger, younger and healthier, bringing down costs for all Medicare customers. Conversely, getting many older consumers off the health care exchanges would make those served through the exchanges younger and healthier, by average, bringing down insurance rates.

And because those entering Medicare at age 50 will pay their freight until age 65, it is budget neutral.

There is no political consensus at this time for the nation to turn to the government health plans seen in most other western nations. There is even less support for attempts by Republicans to turn back the clock to a time when tens of millions of Americans were left uninsured and had no viable options to obtain health coverage.

That is why proposals such as this, which provide incremental change and build upon existing policies, provide the best chance for gaining the bipartisan support that will be necessary to fix the nation’s health care system.

At a press conference held to introduce the legislation, Courtney put that approach in simple terms.

“I think it’s time for us, rather than swinging for the fences, we ought to be hitting singles and doubles in terms of trying to fix and improve the health care system. I think that’s what the American people want.”

On that score, Courtney is right.