U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., is co-sponsoring legislation that could expand Medicare access to the 50-to-64-year old age group. Congressional Democrats announced the proposal this week, called the Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act. The bill will be introduced by Rep. Brian Higgins, who represents the Buffalo, N.Y., area.

Rhode Island Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon have signed onto the Senate version of the measure.

Courtney quoted recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that a Medicare buy-in plan for those aged 50-64 was supported by 77 percent of the public.

“We have listened to our constituents, many of whom are over age 50 and facing premiums that easily reach over a thousand dollars per month," Courtney said. The proposal, he said, provides an additional option for higher-cost consumers, "restores the market stabilizing policies that Republicans have undermined in recent years, and equips the Department of Health and Human Services with new tools to drive down prescription costs for seniors."

Supporters said Medicare buy-in could lower premium costs by 40 percent.

Under the proposal, participants could buy Medicare coverage (Part A, B, and D, or a Medicare Advantage plan) at-cost. The plans would be offered on the health insurance exchanges, providing opportunity for comparison-shopping, and customers eligible for premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions could apply them towards their buy-in premium.

A public Medigap option would be created to ensure that enrollees would be able to access all the benefits they need. The bill would also authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate volume discounts on prescription drugs to achieve even greater savings in the system to the benefit of all Medicare beneficiaries  

Courtney is among 15 House sponsors, including another Connecticut congressman, John Larson.

Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, and Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, joined House members in the announcement on Tuesday and were among 19 Democratic senators supporting the idea, including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and four of the announced presidential candidaes, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar.  The Senate version is called the Medicare at 50 Act.

In his press release, Reed said that lowering the age threshold would help more people get preventive treatment for chronic diseases. 

Whitehouse added, “Giving Americans the option to get insured through Medicare at an earlier age is a simple way to improve access to care and lower costs.” 

Sun staff

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