Stabenow wants Medicare more widely available

Medicare expansion

WASHINGTON - With health care reform to be looked at again by a U.S. Senate committee next month, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is proposing letting younger Americans buy into Medicare coverage now limited to older people.

Stabenow today introduced legislation that would provide an option for people between the ages of 55 and 64 to purchase Medicare coverage, saying more than a million people in Michigan fit that age bracket and many are "burdened by high insurance premiums, unaffordable deductibles and limited options."

The legislation would make no changes to Medicare coverage as it currently exists for people age 65 and older.

The proposal – which was co-sponsored by several other Democratic senators – is unlikely to see action, however: Republican leaders in Congress have spent years trying to roll back the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, and would probably reject an idea to extend another government health plan as too costly.

But with last week's vote in the Senate that blocked a path toward repealing and rewriting Obamacare for the time being, legislators from both parties have been talking about working together to find ways to improve health care access and lower costs.

In many states, premiums for individual coverage plans under Obamacare have risen sharply and may continue to do so even as deductibles remain high, increasing out-of-pocket expenses and resulting in many people forgoing insurance, despite a mandate that they carry coverage or face a penalty.

This week, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee, said he would hold hearings next month to discuss ways of stabilizing the individual insurance market with the most recent plan to repeal and replace Obamacare being blocked.

In announcing her bill today, Stabenow said her proposed legislation would help people find affordable coverage and also provides a way for Congress "to work together on a bipartisan basis to lower health care and prescription drug costs." Increases in prescription drug costs are widely blamed for premium hikes in recent years.

However, it was not immediately clear how much a proposal like hers could cost in terms of taxpayer dollars or the individual price of buying into Medicare.

Cosponsoring the legislation are Democratic U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Al Franken of Minnesota.

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Contact Todd Spangler: tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler.

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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