Clinton Unveils Plan For Expanding Medicare Coverage
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 6) -- Calling it "the right thing to do," President Bill Clinton this morning announced his plan for expanding Medicare to allow more Americans not now covered to have affordable access to health care. (352K wav sound)
"The proposals I am making are designed to address the problems of some of our most vulnerable older Americans," Clinton said. "The centerpiece of our plan will let many more of these Americans buy into one of our nation's greatest achievements, Medicare."
The White House proposal would grant early access to Medicare at age 62 if other forms of insurance were unavailable or unaffordable. The current age requirement is 65. Clinton also proposed that laid-off workers between the ages of 55 and 61 be allowed to buy into Medicare coverage as well. (320K wav sound)
Corporate downsizing and cost-cutting has meant an increasing number of seniors without insurance through layoffs, unemployment or the loss of promised retirement benefits. Fifteen percent of Americans between 62 and 65 currently have no health insurance, a number sure to grow with the baby boomers.
"These people have spent their lifetimes working hard and supporting their families, contributing to society. And just at the time they most need health care, they are least attractive to health insurers, who demand higher premiums
or deny coverage outright," Clinton said.
The average payout to Medicare recipients is $5,900 per year. So how can the already strapped system afford to add anyone?
The new plan would enable those without insurance to pay a fixed premium of roughly $300 a month, and then an additional $10 a month after 65 for every year they bought in early.
The annual premiums paid by those under 65 would equal between $4,000 to $5,000 a year, as much as 10 times the cost at 65.
Administration officials say the higher premium, plus money saved through an aggressive campaign against Medicare fraud and some projected savings elsewhere in the program, means the extension will pay for itself.
"This is an entirely new way of adapting a program that has worked in the past to the needs of the future," Clinton said. "It is a fiscally responsible plan that finances itself by charging an affordable premium upfront and a small payment later to insure that this places no new burden on Medicare."
Republicans say there is no way to estimate the real costs of insuring people who will be, on average, sicker than the rest of the population and the government will be stuck with the bill.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said, "We must have a thorough and complete understanding of what will be the financial implications to Medicare by such an expansion of the population."
Democrats in Congress say the problem of uninsured older Americans is growing and must be addressed.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), while leaving the White House's Medicare event, said, "The ingenuity of the proposal is that it will be paid for and paid for in full and I would think that anyone who doesn't understand the anxiety and the kinds of concerns of these elderly working families doesn't really understand what is happening out on Main Street."
CNN's Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.