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First Step in the Expansion of Medicare? Feds Assist Employer Health Plans for Retirees Age 55 +

Posted May 05 2010 11:14pm

425px-marx_old During the Health Care reform debate, one of the many plans promulgated was to expand Medicare availability to persons aged 55 and up who are not otherwise insured. The argument on behalf of the initiative was simply that Medicare works, people like it, and it would not require the reinvention of the wheel. The system is already in place, we would just need to expand what is already there. In addition, even people who rail against “socialized medicine” seem to have an ideological (if not personal) soft spot for Medicare.

The initiative did not gain sufficient traction. There is, however, more than one way to skin a cat. The White House announced the other day that it would commence in helping to pay the medical bills for early retirees (55 and up) who have medical insurance through their former employers and are not yet eligible for Medicare.

Under the program, the federal government can reimburse employers for 80 percent of the cost of claims from $15,000 to $90,000 a year for a retired worker who is 55 or older and not eligible for Medicare .

The primary goal it seems is to incentivize private employers to continue insuring retirees.  The Times quotes Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama:

“In 1988,” Ms. Jarrett said, “66 percent of large firms provided health care coverage to their retirees. Twenty years later, in 2008, the percent of firms offering coverage to retirees plummeted to 31 percent.”

Obviously, if one can indirectly continue private coverage for those over 55, one need not expand Medicare coverage to do so. But of course there remains those over 55 who are not fortunate enough, at present, to be covered by an employer retiree plan.

80 per cent of up to $90,000 is a large subsidy–by anyone’s standards. But the money will go to business which, for some reason, attenuates the subsidy sufficiently for the largesse to not be “socialism.” And businesses which benefit from such subsidies are not likely to complain–having now cultivated a personal, and thus ideological, soft spot for the program. Like Medicare.

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