Buying into Medicare early

    Lawmakers debate an alternative to the public option.

    A compromise proposal is emerging in the Senate health reform debate. Analysts say it could win support from both liberals and moderates. Plans for a public option seem to be losing momentum, while a push to expand access to Medicare is winning support.

    Listen: [audio:091209teoption.mp3]

    People between 55 and 65 would be able to buy into Medicare, the popular federal health plan for seniors. David Grande is a health policy analyst at the University of Pennsylvania. He says seniors who are under 65 often can’t get private health insurance because they have chronic health problems.

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    Grande: One of the nice things here is that Medicare exists already today, so it’s very easy to think about opening the program up to new populations very quickly as opposed to having to roll things out over many years. The challenge is going to be that it is a buy-in option, and so it’s gonna be expensive.

    Right now, some individuals pay as much as $7,000 a year for private health coverage.

    Analysts say the Medicare buy-in could start as soon as 2010, but the planned subsidies for low-income people aren’t likely to kick-in for three or four years.

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