Jon Chait’s Miserable Endorsement of Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age
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Since Jon Chait has never met a concession he didn’t like, he comes out with an endorsement of raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of a long-term deficit deal. So his cover for what is universally regarded as a terrible idea surely led deficit scolds seeking to use the problem to weaken the safety net to give each other high-fives.
Let’s look at Chait’s reasoning. I would probably start with the fact that he’s not 64 or 65. My parents are, and until my dad reached Medicare in November, they were paying $2,500 a month on the private market for health insurance. So I’ll be happy to provide him with their phone number so he can tell them how it’s “tolerable” for them to spend two years more than they expected doing that.
But soft! Here are his actual reasons. One, Democrats have to accept concessions (that’s always a good strategic place from which to begin a negotiation!), and the scolds seem to like raising the eligibility age. So let’s give ‘em what they want. This is a bizarrely content-free assertion. The phrase “If Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles wanted you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it?” springs to mind. Second, he thinks that Republicans will somehow forget that this only raises $100 billion, at most, over 10 years, and will then drop any demands to hit a particular number in the negotiations.
Then there’s this bit of folly:
What’s more, raising the Medicare retirement age would help strengthen the fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act [...] The political basis for the right’s opposition to universal health insurance has always been that the uninsured are politically disorganized and weak. But a side effect of raising the Medicare retirement age would be that a large cohort of 65- and 66-year-olds would suddenly find themselves needing the Affordable Care Act to buy their health insurance. Which is to say, Republicans attacking the Affordable Care Act would no longer be attacking the usual band of very poor or desperate people they can afford to ignore but a significant chunk of middle-class voters who have grown accustomed to the assumption that they will be able to afford health care. Strengthening the political coalition for universal coverage seems like a helpful side benefit — possibly even one conservatives come to regret, and liberals, to feel relief they accepted.
This is cynical, to say the least. It’s also completely wrong. The one thing we know will be a side effect of increasing the Medicare eligibility age is that insurance premiums will skyrocket. It will make Medicare more expensive because they lose relatively healthy 65 and 66 year-olds from their risk pool, and it will make private insurance more expensive because they add relatively sick 65 and 66 year-olds to their risk pool. Insurers hate the idea for just this reason. As a result, everyone’s premiums will rise, and cost-shifting will ensue from the government to its citizens.
People with busy lives don’t differentiate between what provisions in health care can be attributed to the Affordable Care Act and what provisions come from a fiscal deal. They’ll just know that the ACA got implemented in 2014, and as a result their insurance rates jumped. It’s maybe the worst strategic plan in the world to raise the Medicare age to bolster support for the Affordable Care Act by raising how much everyone has to spend on health insurance, particularly those who don’t get subsidies, the same “significant chunk of middle-class voters who have grown accustomed to the assumption that they will be able to afford health care.”