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Senate GOP would raise Medicare eligibility age to 67

June 11, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Republicans plan to propose gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 and charging $5 for each home visit by health-care workers as they overhaul the medical insurance program for the elderly.

In addition, a draft of the Senate GOP’s plans for Medicaid omits any of the $1.5 billion that Clinton administration and congressional budget bargainers agreed to provide to help the elderly poor pay monthly premiums for Medicare coverage. Republicans said they would supply the assistance, but perhaps not all $1.5 billion.

White House officials expressed opposition to all three ideas. But they avoided threatening a veto, a strategy they are following as Congress begins writing bills implementing last month’s bipartisan budget-balancing accord.

``We’re particularly concerned it does not include premium protections for low-income Medicare beneficiaries,″ said Lawrence Haas, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The drafts, obtained by The Associated Press, were prepared by Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, R-Del., for briefings he is holding this week with members of his panel. Its details _ including plans to spend $16 billion to expand health insurance coverage for up to 5 million children _ could change before Roth formally presents them to his committee for votes next week.

In Medicare, Roth would slowly raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 today to 67 by 2027, the same gradual increase already enacted for Social Security.

That change would produce billions of dollars in long-term savings for Medicare, whose costs are projected to skyrocket as the massive baby boom generation begins retiring in 2008.

``It’s a long-term issue,″ said Roth spokeswoman Virginia Koops.

Haas said the administration believes that proposal should await future attempts to address the long-range financing problems faced by Medicare.

Objections also came from the American Association of Retired Persons, the largest advocacy group of older Americans. Chief lobbyist John Rother said the idea means that people who retire at age 65 could face two years without health insurance or facing expensive payments to cover themselves.

Roth would also end free visits by home health-care workers at a time the government says costs for the service are growing rapidly. Rother said those visits are used largely by poor, elderly women.

``At $5 a visit, it’s typically a service needed for an extended period of time, so it’s quite a hit on the low-income population,″ Rother said.

Koops said Republicans would decide how much of the $1.5 billion to spend to help poor elderly people pay Medicare premiums after they determined what would happen to those premiums. Those monthly payments, now $43.80, are expected to rise by more than $20 by 2002.

Roth’s goal ``is to take care of this group of people,″ Koops said. ``We’re not sure $1.5 billion will be necessary.″

On Tuesday, the House Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee approved its version of the measure and included just $600 million to help poor Medicare recipients pay their premiums.

Overall, Roth’s proposal resembles legislation approved by two House panels this week making changes in Medicare and Medicaid and providing health-care coverage for up to half the country’s 10 million uninsured children.

Both chambers plan to carve $115 billion in savings through 2002 from Medicare, mostly by reducing payments to hospitals and doctors and other health-care professionals.

The measures would also save about $14 billion from Medicaid, largely by reducing reimbursements to many hospitals.

The proposals would also create a range of health-plan options for Medicare beneficiaries. These would include managed care, the current fee-for-service system and medical savings accounts, in which up to 500,000 people would get vouchers to buy their own policies.

They also would provide coverage for mammography and other new services.

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