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Would the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill lower the Medicare eligibility age?

Democrats have finalized their $3.5 reconciliation bill, and one major aspect would be the lowering of the Medicare eligibility age to sixty.

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Would the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill lower the Medicare eligibility age?
Drew Angerer AFP

One of the most significant changes the reconciliation bill could make would be the lowering of the Medicare eligibility age from sixty-five to sixty.

President Biden made this a central part of his campaign, and the measure holds fairly widespread support from the public. A Data for Progress poll conducted in August 2021 found that around 60 percent of respondents said they were in support. Support is most substantial among Democrats (75%) and Independents (53) and lower for Republicans (48%).

On 3 September, 100 Democrats on Capitol Hill introduced a bill that lowered the eligibility age, with the hopes of having it included a reconciliation bill. In a press release put out by the co-sponsors, they noted that "Up to 25 percent of those ages 60 to 64 experience being uninsured before turning 65."

Will the bill pass?

While the prospects of passing this historic bill seemed increasingly probable earlier this Summer, many forces have changed.

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have opposed the bill saying that they will not approve a package that size. Sen. Manchin has recommended a "strategic pause" in the negotiations and to wait and see how the pandemic recovery continues. However, progressives are not willing to follow the West Virginia Senators' advice.

Progressives in the House are withholding their support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill until an agreement on the reconciliation bill is made. Without these forty votes, the bill cannot pass because of opposition within the Republican party. Many leading on the reconciliation bill have attempted to meet with Sen. Manchin and Sen. Sinema, but no progress has been made public on these discussions.

What are the benefits of lowering the eligibility age?

If the eligibility age were lowered, an additional 24 million people could enroll in the program, bringing the total of people covered to around 86 million people. Signing up would become an option at this age, but those who wish to stay on their employer-sponsored health care plan could do so.

Additionally, in 1987, the federal government extended the retirement age to sixty-seven for those born after 1960. This means that they receive the maximum social security benefit based on their income, they must wait to retire at sixty-seven. Anyone looking to retire before then often struggles to find affordable plans with their lower monthly incomes.

In speaking in support of the bill, one of the co-sponsors, Congressmen Conor Lamb, said: "Many working Americans – like firefighters and nurses – can end up out of the workforce before 65 because of the grueling nature of their jobs. Most have paid into Medicare for decades at that point, and they should get the benefit when they need it."

The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from charging people with a pre-existing condition more for coverage. However, Very Well Health has reported that insurance companies "can charge older adults as much as three times more than younger adults." Lowering the age would solve this problem, buy offering affordable healthcare for those who retire before their benefits kick in.