April 15, 2021

Warren at Hearing: Lowering Medicare Eligibility Age to 55 Could Cover Tens of Millions of Americans, We Can't Waste This Opportunity to Expand Coverage and Lower Costs

Video of Hearing Exchange (Youtube)

Washington, DC - In a Senate Finance Committee hearing today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made the case for lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 55 while questioning Ms. Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, President Biden's nominee to serve as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Senator Warren believes in lowering the age to 55 would expand coverage for millions and has the potential to lower premiums for the Medicare program. 

In responding to Senator Warren's questions about the challenges facing older Americans who haven't hit 65 yet, Ms. Brooks-LaSure responded that being "right below the Medicare eligible age can be an incredible challenge for people if they don't have affordable employer sponsored insurance." Ms. Brooks-LaSure also said that "we need to continue to work to make sure that we have affordable options available for that population in particular" and agreed to work with President Biden to expand coverage and lower health care costs.  

Transcript: Hearing to Consider the Nominations of Andrea Joan Palm to be Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Thursday, April 15, 2021

Senator Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And congratulations to our nominee. 

It's no secret that our health insurance system, even in the best of times, leaves millions of people without the coverage that they need. But because most Americans still depend on their jobs to provide health coverage, our system performs even worse in a crisis like the one we're now living through.

Heading into 2020, nearly 30 million people were uninsured. Then when the coronavirus hit, unemployment spiked, and up to 3 million more people lost their employer-based insurance.

Now President Biden has promised to expand health coverage. And public programs like Medicare that provide high-quality care at low cost will be the backbone of that expansion -not for-profit insurers that will find any opportunity to shift costs to patients while they line their own pockets.

So Ms. Brooks-LaSure, you've testified previously about the popularity of the Medicare program. Americans aged 65 and up, and some people with disabilities, are eligible for Medicare right now-but there are a lot of people, many just below the eligibility age, who struggle to get high-quality, affordable care through private insurance. Can you just say a word about what are the challenges facing older Americans who may want Medicare, but they haven't hit their 65th birthday yet?

Ms. Brooks-LaSure: Thank you Senator Warren for your leadership in making sure that policy makers continue to focus on making sure coverage is affordable in this country. The Affordable Care Act was such an incredible, important first step in making sure that people had affordable care options. The Congress has just passed the American Rescue Plan. Thank you for that, which is making such a difference to people on the ground right now, who as a result of the COVID pandemic may be struggling to pay for their health insurance. Right below the Medicare eligible age can be an incredible challenge for people if they don't have affordable employer sponsored insurance. In many states, coverage through the marketplaces is available to them, and we need to continue to work to make sure that we have affordable options available for that population in particular as they may be wanting to make decisions about retirement, making decisions about job changes at that point in their lives.  

Senator Warren: So we have this group of Americans who aren't quite old enough yet for Medicare, but who are sometimes struggling to access health care right during the time of their lives when they start to need health care coverage the most. As a candidate, President Biden promised to help this group of Americans by lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to 60-years-old. And doing so would expand Medicare coverage to roughly 23 million people.

Ms. Brooks-LaSure, analysts have shown that lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 could insure nearly 2 million previously uninsured people would get coverage and would help reduce premiums for the current Medicare population because it would add a younger, healthier population to the Medicare risk pool-benefiting the health system overall. Is that correct?

Ms. Brooks-LaSure: I'm not familiar with that particular study. I do know that the population you're talking about is absolutely one that, as I've worked with states where eligibility for various programs could be higher. And we need to make sure that that population has-- 

Senator Warren: Let me just ask it slightly differently. I understand if you don't know the particular study, but the general principle makes sense. When we have fewer uninsured people, and when healthier, younger people join risk pools, that's a good thing-right?

Ms. Brooks-LaSure: Yes. It is a good thing when healthier, younger people join-- join this pool.  

Senator Warren: And more people get coverage. So Ms. Brooks-LaSure, do you agree with President Biden that lowering the Medicare eligibility age could strengthen health care coverage in America?

Ms. Brooks-LaSure: I think that the President has outlined several important policies, including as you've said lowering the Medicare age. And if confirmed I will work to implement the policies of the administration.

Senator Warren: Good. And I appreciate your answer. I have to tell you: lowering the Medicare eligibility age to expand coverage and lower costs is a no-brainer.

I know President Biden has talked about dropping the Medicare age from 65 to 60, but frankly I think we should go even further. People need low-cost health care options, particularly as they get older and need more health care. Dropping the age to 60 could expand Medicare for 23 million people, but dropping the age to 55 could expand it for an additional 14 million people. And doing so has the potential to lower premiums in the Medicare program, and-depending on how we structure it-lower premiums for private health insurance, too.

So we have this opportunity to expand Medicare coverage to tens of millions of Americans-and we can't waste it. We need to get this done. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.