A new report from Avalere extrapolates what it might mean for the future of 50-somethings. There are about 13 million people between the ages of 50 and 65 who are either uninsured or have purchased private insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces. This population represents most people in the age range without affordable employer- or group-insurance coverage and who don’t qualify for Medicaid. Assuming that this is the population that would be eligible for Clinton’s Medicare for More, Avalere reports that it is “unclear” if Medicare would automatically be a good deal for them.
With no knowledge of premiums or subsidies yet, a Medicare buy-in might just be too costly for those uninsured adults above 50 who have low incomes but are ineligible for Medicaid because of state rules. For those in private plans, Medicare has a distinct number of cost disadvantages, including a 20 percent cost-sharing requirement, no lifetime cap on out-of-pocket expenditures, and drug benefits that are generally less generous. Also, it is unclear if people under 65 could qualify for the Medicare Advantage plans that help fill in gaps in coverage. Sicker elderly adults regularly run up against the limits of Medicare, and it is hard to envision cases in which Medicare would make more financial sense for near-elderly adults with serious chronic illnesses than medium-cost marketplace plans.
But Medicare has always been a good deal for those who don’t use many health-care services, and it might beat out low-cost marketplace plans for healthy adults between 50 and 65 with few health problems. Medicare provides access to one of the broadest networks of physicians, providers, and benefits possible, and consumers value continuity. A buy-in at 50 could allow people to remain on the same insurance coverage with the same providers for the rest of their lives. Also, while Medicare has not been shown to have a serious effect on health trajectories for uninsured adults who become enrollees at age 65, at age 50 it might provide services early enough to change outcomes. Medicare also provides protection against medical debts, and if premiums could be made affordable to uninsured adults over 50, it could have serious value as health issues mount with age.
Medicare for More might have more value to the Medicare program than to any individual beneficiary. People between 50 and 65 are healthier than those over 65, and many of the costs that penalize high utilization can be seen as offsets for having to cover the most expensive population in the country. Even for Medicare, which has broad power to affect prices and policy, covering services, visits, drugs, surgery, and hospital stays costs money, and as patients near costly end-of-life holding patterns, the cost curve skyrockets. Adding healthier, younger people to the risk pool might bring down the per-person costs of the program. If the subsidies are equivalent to marketplace subsidies, premiums and savings from the over-50 crowd could actually cut back net costs for the Medicare albatross. Removing more middle-aged adults from marketplace risk pools might actually make insurance cheaper for young adults as well.