Larson, Courtney: Fix ACA by letting 50 to 64-year-olds join Medicare
After passing the eight-year mark since passing the Affordable Care Act, nonpartisan data from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau have confirmed the real-life benefits the ACA has brought to the state of Connecticut. As the Bureau reported, the uninsured rate in our state has fallen from 9.2 to 3.8 percent, patients can no longer be cut off from medical treatment due to lifetime limits on coverage, and Americans have the peace of mind in knowing that a childhood illness or chronic disease will not prohibit them from purchasing health insurance later in life.
However, in the seven years since its passage, the ACA has not solved every problem in the healthcare system and serious challenges remain even today. What we need now are forward thinking ideas about how to build on the successes of the ACA, while also finding ways to reduce costs and improve quality for every American.
In recent months, healthcare stakeholders such as hospitals, doctor groups, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association have risen up in opposition to reckless attempts to repeal the ACA without an adequate replacement. All of these groups, like us, are clear eyed in recognizing that it is time for Congress to get serious about finding ways to move the conversation, and our healthcare system, forward. When talking to constituents in our districts, the one thing we hear repeatedly is the ACA did not do enough to bring costs down for Americans approaching retirement.
That led us to join our colleague Rep. Brian Higgins from New York to draft legislation that would allow Americans age 50-64 to buy into the Medicare program for the first time. Our bill, the Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act will build on the successes of the ACA, strengthen Medicare, and stabilize the existing individual marketplaces to increase consumer choice and affordability.
This proposal will not take one penny from current or future Medicare beneficiaries and would require that working Americans continue to pay into the Medicare Trust Fund. Medicare buy-in participants would pay a premium to cover the costs specific to the new Buy-In population; they would select the Buy-In option through the individual marketplaces or exchanges during open enrollment season. This will provide people ages 50-64 with the ability to compare other private insurance plans against Medicare coverage and determine what options are best for themselves.
The Medicare Buy-In will also be available to individuals who obtain health care through their employer and allow the employer to contribute towards the cost of the premiums. If the employee decides this is a better choice for them, this option could reduce costs for both the employee and the employer. For small businesses, the bill would allow eligible employees to work with their employers to use their employer contribution for the purchase of Medicare. Small businesses and the self-employed are difficult to cover — giving the option to “buy-in” to Medicare would provide a lower-cost option for the employers who are trying to do the best for their workers.
Additionally, this plan would finally allow Medicare to use its market power to negotiate with drug makers to achieve lower prescription drug pricing. According to the Commonwealth Fund, the Medicaid program, the Veterans Administration and Department of Defense all negotiate with drug makers and consistently save 24 percent annually.
Working with outside experts, we calculated that a 60-year-old could potentially save almost 40 percent on their health insurance premiums if they purchased a Medicare policy rather than a privately offered gold level plan available now. By leveraging the success of Medicare, our bill would give more Americans access to the program’s efficiency and large provider network.
Our legislation also includes efforts to stabilize the individual insurance markets that have struggled with recent uncertainty by implementing a reinsurance fund and improving the Cost Sharing Reductions for low-income Americans. Our bill would also create a commission to study the long-term trajectory of the health care system to determine ways to reduce costs going forward. A part of that effort would be to build upon the ACA’s Medicare program integrity efforts and return monies to strengthen the Medicare Trust Fund.
It is simply not enough to say no to efforts to repeal the ACA without coming to the table with our own ideas. Americans deserve a Congress that can come together and work on a truly bipartisan solution to improve our healthcare delivery system and we believe the Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act is the solution. Our bill will take the best of what the private sector and public sector have to offer and will create a more stable insurance market, with lower premiums and greater access to care.