A group of Democratic senators re-introduced legislation, dubbed the "Medicare at 50 Act," that would expand Medicare access to Americans who are between 50 and 64 years old.
“This legislation has the potential to lower people’s costs, as well as reinforcing the existing Medicare program,” Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who sponsored the bill along with twenty Democratic co-sponsors, told reporters on Wednesday. “And it would help strengthen the health insurance marketplace.”
A 2019 survey by the University of Michigan found that 27% of adults approaching retirement had little or no confidence in being able to afford health insurance over the next year and 45% had little or no confidence to afford the cost of their health insurance once they retired.
“You work hard your whole life and you simply can’t handle physical labor anymore and you’re trying to hold on so you can get to 65,” Stabenow said, referring to the age at which Americans automatically qualify for Medicare. “Maybe you are 55 or 58 forced to retire because of the specific job that you do. A lot of people are in that situation.”
'My goal in life is to live 'til I’m 65'
There is bipartisan support for expanding Medicare eligibility among Americans: A January 2019 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 77% of the 1,190 respondents — including 69% of Republican respondents — favored a Medicare buy-in plan for people as young as the age of 50.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the bill's co-sponsors, told reporters a story about one of his constituents.
“I remember a few years ago, I was at a town hall meeting in Youngstown, Ohio, and a woman stood up and said ‘I’m 63 years old. My goal in life is to live 'til I’m 65 so I can get on Medicare. My goal in life isn’t to take a trip to New York or be able to see my grandchildren,’” Brown said on the press call. “She was so focused on her health care. She had two jobs at the time, both low-wage jobs and neither provided insurance. She just knew how important it was to have insurance and get on something that is popular and important and sufficient and effective as Medicare.”
The legislation also goes a step further than President Biden’s Medicare plan, which proposed lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 years old.
“After four years of President Trump working to repeal the Affordable Care Act and take people’s options and health care coverage away, it is so welcomed to be able to turn the page,” Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), one of the bill's co-sponsors, said on the call. “When it comes to providing access to affordable health care for every American, there’s more that we must do right now to change the status quo and improve our health care system and lower costs.”
Baldwin also cited the millions of Americans estimated to have lost their employer-sponsored health care during the height of the pandemic in 2020, stressing how that could affect their ability to cover essential services like prescription drug costs, substance use disorder care, or emergency room care.
If the legislation were enacted, eligible Americans would be entitled to the same benefits and protections as Americans who become eligible for full Medicare benefits at the age of 65.
The bill would also ensure that there would be no detrimental effects to those who would already be eligible for Medicare without this bill.
“As people approach retirement, their health care needs tend to go up,” Brown said. “The importance of prescription drugs go up, and their costs go up. Letting people choose to buy into Medicare, starting at age 50, would fix that. It’s something achievable we can get done right away to make a difference in millions of Americans’ lives.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.