Biden’s ‘Medicare At 60’ Depends On Georgia Senate Races

President-elect Joe Biden may need Democrats to win both U.S. Senate races in Georgia for his effort to expand Medicare to Americans as young as 60 years old.

For Democrats to control the U.S. Senate, they need to win U.S. Senate runoff races scheduled for January 5 when Republican Sen. David Perdue faces Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in one race and the Rev. Raphael Warnock faces the GOP’s Kelly Loeffler in the other. There are stark differences between the Democrats who want to expand healthcare coverage and the Republicans who have both fought to curtail health benefits, notably supporting the Republican effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Biden campaigned for the presidency in his win over Republican Donald Trump to not only bolster the ACA and expand its health benefits but the Democrat headed for the White House wants to allow Americans between the ages of 60 and 64 the option of buying into Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly. And he’s going to need a Democratic controlled U.S. Senate along with the Democratic-controlled U.S House to expand Medicare.

“It is hard to see how the more ambitious parts of the Biden health agenda, can move through Congress without a Democratic majority in the Senate,” says Tricia Neuman, senior vice president and executive director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Even if the Georgia election results in Democratic control of the Senate, it would still be a challenge with such a narrow margin.”

The former vice president in April announced his proposal to allow Americans between the ages of 60 and 64 the option of buying into Medicare. Biden’s proposal would be less costly than earlier versions proposed by Democrats in the U.S. Senate to lower Medicare eligibility to as young as 55 or even 50 but it would lead to millions of Americans gaining more affordable coverage.

“It is hard to know for sure what the effects would be without specific legislation, but it seems clear that lowering the age of eligibility would reduce the number of uninsured Americans in a fairly straightforward way, targeting those who face relatively high premiums in the marketplace because of their age,” Kaiser Family Foundation’s Neuman said. “Lowering the age of Medicare eligibility would give older adults a direct pathway to more affordable coverage. In some respects, this makes it easier for older adults to get health coverage under Medicare, unless they choose to opt out for an employer plan or other source of coverage.”

Biden’s Medicare proposal is part of his campaign’s pledge to build on the Affordable Care Act signed into law 10 years ago by President Barack Obama. Trump, meanwhile, has spent his one-term in office trying unsuccessfully to uproot the ACA as well as its subsidized individual coverage known as Obamacare and the law’s expansion of Medicaid for poor Americans.

For Biden to win over Congress even under the control of Democrats, some analysts say he needs more details to his plan.

“Regardless of whether or not Democrats have control of both the House and the Senate, a Biden Administration will face sizeable hurdles convincing lawmakers to expand Medicare,” says Gretchen Jacobson, vice president of Medicare at The Commonwealth Fund. “The administration will need to answer important questions about who will be eligible, how the government will finance its slice of the pie, and how much your average 60-year old will have to pay.”

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