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Senators Ask HHS Nominee: Will You Raise Medicare Eligibility Age?

The US Capitol Building, viewed from the rear of the property.
The US Capitol Building, viewed from the rear of the property.

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Jack Reed(D-RI) is among a group of nine Democratic Senators asking for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether U.S. Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee, will raise the Medicare eligibility age.

U.S. Senators Reed, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), asking Price to clarify his position on the Medicare eligibility age ahead of his nomination hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, according to a release from the Rhode Island Senator’s office.

Despite President-elect Donald Trump’s promise not to cut Medicare for seniors who’ve earned it, his nominee to lead the nation’s top health agency – which has jurisdiction over Medicare – has criticized the program and signaled support for raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.

In a letter sent to Price Wednesday, the Senators sought clarity on Price’s position, demanding a simple yes or no answer on whether he supports raising the eligibility age and forcing people to work longer.

“Construction and factory workers, nurses, servers in a diner – people who have been involved in hard, physical labor – cannot always continue working those extra years. Shifting the eligibility age for Medicare in a way that would affect a current generation of workers who are already paying into the program and counting on its guarantee is irresponsible and fundamentally unfair,” wrote the Senators. “It is imperative that the American people have a clear understanding of your past statements, current views, and prospective goals for the future of the Medicare program.”

The full text of the letter is posted below:

Dear Representative Price:

As nominee for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we are writing to request that you clarify your support for raising the Medicare eligibility age prior to your nomination hearing in front of the Senate Finance Committee.

Since Medicare’s enactment in 1965, America’s seniors no longer live in fear of losing affordable, comprehensive health insurance when they retire. For too long, older Americans who spent their working years paying taxes and playing by the rules were unable to achieve the financial security in retirement that they deserved. Now, thanks in large part to social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security, Americans can spend their working years confident that they will retire with the guaranteed benefits they have paid into throughout their lives.

More than 55 million seniors and individuals with disabilities currently rely on Medicare to help cover their medical costs. Yet, despite the remarkable success of Medicare, you have harshly criticized this lifesaving program. You have stated that “nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government’s intrusion into medicine through Medicare” and you have argued that “we will not rest until we make certain that government-run health care [including Medicare] is ended.”

In addition to these criticisms and support of proposals to fundamentally change Medicare by privatizing the program, you have supported raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 through your endorsement of Speaker Ryan’s “A Better Way.” and factory workers, nurses, servers in a diner – people who have been involved in hard, physical labor – cannot always continue working those extra years. Shifting the eligibility age for Medicare in a way that would affect a current generation of workers who are already paying into the program and counting on its guarantee is irresponsible and fundamentally unfair. As you have said yourself, “today’s seniors and tomorrow’s retirees should have a Medicare program that provides access to affordable, quality health care” and future generations of Americans should be able to “count on the programs they have paid into and were promised.”

As you already know, the Secretary of HHS maintains jurisdiction over the Medicare program. As the current nominee for this position, it is imperative that the American people have a clear understanding of your past statements, current views, and prospective goals for the future of the Medicare program.

Prior to your confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, please respond to the following questions to clarify your position on raising the Medicare eligibility age:

1. You have previously supported ending “government-run healthcare.” Given your prior comments, do you support ending the Medicare program – yes or no? When previously asked this question you have failed to answer and instead responded that you “support patients making independent medical decisions.” Please clearly answer whether or not you support ending or significantly altering the current Medicare program.

2. Do you support raising the eligibility age for Medicare – yes or no?

a. If yes, what age would you raise the eligibility age to?

3. You have said that Medicare needs “significant reforms” and “appropriate restructuring.” Do you support raising the eligibility age as a way of reforming and/or restructuring the program?

4. Do you believe it is fair to increase the eligibility age for workers who are currently paying in to Medicare and planning their retirement around current statue?

5. How would you justify raising the eligibility age for Medicare for individuals who work in more physically taxing conditions, such as factory workers, miners, nurses, and service industry individuals?

6. Studies have shown that increasing the Medicare eligibility age would increase overall national health care spending. Do you support increasing our national health care spending solely on account of raising the eligibility age – yes or no?

7. Studies have shown that increasing the Medicare eligibility age would increase out-of-pocket costs for seniors and employers that have retiree health care plans.

a. Do you support increasing out-of-pocket costs for seniors – yes or no?

b. Do you support increasing costs for businesses by raising their retiree health plan costs – yes or no?

8. Please explain how raising the eligibility age for future generations – who are already paying in to this program – is not a direct undercut of the Medicare guarantee for the more than 260 million Americans who are not current beneficiaries.

a. You have said that future generations of Americans should be able to “count on the programs they have paid into and were promised.” Please clarify how future generations can “count on” the Medicare guarantee if the retirement age is subject to change.

9. If confirmed as HHS Secretary, how would your current views on and past promises regarding Medicare affect your oversight and administration of the program?

Over the past half century, Medicare has prolonged and enhanced the lives of millions of Americans. Before the passage of Medicare, 30 percent of seniors lived in poverty, only half had health insurance, and most of those with insurance only had coverage for inpatient hospital costs. Now, nearly 98 percent of seniors have health coverage[1] and more than 90 percent live above the poverty line.[2] We cannot afford to reverse these gains through replacement of Medicare as we know it, or by tactics such as raising the age of eligibility or shifting significant costs onto seniors, their families, and taxpayers.

We look forward to receiving your written response to the above questions in advance of your confirmation hearing.

Sincerely,

Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at editor@warwickpost.com with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.