(The fiscal scolds must be obeyed!)
Is there a more frustrating liberal columnist than Jonathan Chait? At times he does stellar work, but at other times he becomes another casualty of the beltway villager syndrome when he says Go Ahead, Raise the Medicare Retirement Age.
This seems like a useful time for liberals to sort out the difference between budget ideas we don’t like and budget ideas we can’t or shouldn’t accept. (Ezra Klein has some other sensible ideas here.) Many of my liberal wonk friends have been making the case against raising the Medicare retirement age — seeSarah Kliff, Matthew Yglesias, and Jonathan Cohn.
Their basic case is that raising the Medicare retirement age is a really stupid way to save money because it just forces people to stop buying health care through Medicare, which is relatively cheap, and start buying it through private insurance, which costs way more. They’re all totally right about this. Still, when the question comes to what concessions the Democrats are going to have to accept, rather than what policy makes the most sense, raising the Medicare age seems like a sensible bone to throw the right.
Raising the age of Medicare isn't a damn bone, it's a six inch dagger sticking into the hearts of millions of elderly Americans. It's been analyzed by the best and consensus is that raising the age of eligibility is horrible for health care, people, future costs and savings.
The majority of 65- and 66-year-olds would end up with skimpier coverage than they’d have with Medicare—and some would end up with no coverage at all—leaving them exposed to higher expenses. Businesses would also face higher costs, because some of those 65- and 66-year-olds would stay on employer policies. Medicare premiums would also inch higher, since the pool of people in Medicare would be older overall. Overall, according to independent assessments, the government would spend less on medical care, but the country as a whole would spend more, which is precisely the opposite of what public policy is supposed to be achieving right now. (This report from the Kaiser Family Foundation has a full analysis and this item from Sarah Kliff puts it into context, if you want to know more.)
So why does Chait think this is a good idea?
For one thing, it has weirdly disproportionate symbolic power, both among Republicans in Congress and establishmentarian fiscal scolds. Mitch McConnell and Erskine Bowles alike would regard raising the retirement age as a sign of serious belt-tightening and the “structural reforms” conservatives say they need. Meager and inefficient though the savings may be, they pack a lot of punch in delivering Republican votes.
So instead of good policy and compassion we're supposed to surrender on something that does nothing to ease the so-called fiscal cliff just so teabirchers in Congress can feel better about themselves because they screwed over millions of working class elderly Americans. And of course we must appease the fiscal scolds which in reality have been turned into bipartisan GODS for the beltway villagers and they need their sacrifice. It's not shared sacrifice that politicians proclaim is needed, but the Edward G. Robinson golden calf kind of sacrifice to the GODS in The Ten Commandments. The fiscal scolds must be obeyed or ye shall be punished!
DDay then debunks Chait's final argument about how raising the eligibility age of Medicare would strengthen ACA:
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.
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.”The idiocy on display here can hardly be believed. The dangerous part is how many members of the Democratic caucus might agree with this logic, Nancy Pelosi excepted.
Stupidity unfortunately isn't a deterrent in the hallowed grounds of Congress, but one thing I do know. We can't afford to have more establishment liberals succumbing to satiate the hunger of the barbarous tea party to cut entitlement/earned benefit programs that Americans depend on to survive.