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In an effort to expand healthcare access to tens of millions of Americans in the continuing absence of a more ambitious universal care program, more than 125 House Democrats on Friday introduced legislation that would lower the age of general Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60.
“Congress and President Biden should immediately deliver for the people by prioritizing the expansion and improvement of Medicare in the upcoming Build Back Better package.”
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal
The bill (pdf)—which is led by Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Conor Lamb (Pa.), Joe Neguse (Colo.), Susan Wild (Pa.), Haley Stevens (Mich.), and Debbie Dingell (Mich.)—would bring 23 million more Americans into the government-run program. The policy is supported by President Joe Biden, who—thought he continues to oppose Medicare for All—promised to lower the Medicare eligibility age during his 2020 presidential campaign.
Sponsors of the new proposal hope it will be included in the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill supported by Biden and progressive lawmakers—as well as a majority of U.S. voters. While both houses of Congress have passed the budget blueprint for the landmark package, congressional Democrats are facing an aggressive push by corporate lobbyists and right-wing colleagues from both sides of the aisle to eliminate or weaken crucial provisions.
Proponents of the Medicare expansion bill said it would save many lives.
“Lowering the Medicare eligibility age will not only be life-changing for at least 23 million people, it will also be lifesaving for so many across America who will finally be able to get the care they need and deserve,” Jayapal said in a statement announcing the new bill.
Researchers have found that there is a massive increase in the diagnosis of cancer among Americans who reach the age of 65 that could have been detected much earlier if they had access to Medicare.
Medicare eligibility expansion is also popular policy—and seen by many Americans, especially progressives, as a gateway to more ambitious healthcare reform. According to a Data for Progress survey in June, 60% of likely U.S. voters support lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, while a March poll from Morning Consult found that 55% of respondents favor Medicare for All.
Many of the lawmakers who support the new bill are also co-sponsors of the Medicare for All Act of 2021, which was introduced by Jayapal and Dingell in March.
“We are the only industrialized nation that does not have guaranteed access to healthcare for all its citizens—this needs to change now,” Dingell said on Friday. “We’re working on ensuring universal healthcare, and this includes lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 so that more adults can get the critical access to the quality, affordable healthcare they need.”
Healthcare advocacy groups welcomed the new bill.
“The creation of Medicare transformed the lives of seniors by guaranteeing them access to healthcare and eliminating healthcare bills that threw many into poverty,” Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement.
Weissman added that, if passed, the new bill “can have a similarly transformative effect on the lives of tens of millions of Americans, guaranteeing care, keeping people out of medical bankruptcy, and opening up life choices.”
Jayapal said that “expanding and improving” Medicare “is not only the right thing to do from a policy perspective, it is also what the majority of Americans across party lines support.”
“Congress and President Biden,” she added, “should immediately deliver for the people by prioritizing the expansion and improvement of Medicare in the upcoming Build Back Better package.”