Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office came out with a report assessing the budgetary impact of something many conservatives have supported, raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. What they found was that the change would save far less money than had previously been assumed: only $19 billion over the next decade. The main reason is that many of the people no longer eligible for Medicare would be eligible for either Medicaid or insurance subsidies through the health exchanges, so the net effect on the federal budget would be small.
But more important than that, this is an opportunity to remind ourselves that when government is doing something worthwhile, doing less of it isn't a good idea even if it saved a lot of money. And if cutting back only saves a modest amount of money, it's a really bad idea. You know what else would save a lot of money? Eliminating the United States Navy. But I'm guessing that most conservatives think having a navy is a good thing. Medicare is a spectacular success, one of the greatest things this country has ever done. Letting fewer people get on it is like the Miami Heat saying, "We won the championship last year, so what we need to do now is get rid of LeBron James."
Don't forget, Medicare is more efficient and less expensive than private insurance. Let me repeat that: Medicare is more efficient and less expensive than private insurance. It costs less to administer, its costs have risen more slowly than those of private insurance, and its beneficiaries love it. I realize that these facts cause many conservatives to begin blinking rapidly as their brains threaten overload from the cognitive dissonance produced when they realize that there are places where a government program outperforms its private-sector counterparts. But it's true.
Yes, Medicare's costs are projected to rise greatly in the coming decades. But that isn't because the program doesn't work, it's because of the high cost of health care in general, and because there are going to be a lot more old people. And not incidentally, there was one piece of legislation that found ways to save hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare's future expenses. It was called the Affordable Care Act, and you may remember that Republicans didn't think too highly of it. In fact, they even pretended to be terribly opposed to those very savings, falsely characterizing them as cuts to benefits. But instead they'd like to just make the program available to fewer seniors?
If you don't let people get on Medicare when they're 65, it isn't as though they'll just step into their suspended animation pods for two years and then pop out when they turn 67. Those people will have to get coverage from private insurers. That means they'll be paying more out of their own pockets. And look, I realize that many conservatives believe that someone getting health insurance from the government is an inherently bad thing, no matter how well the program works. But it isn't. When a senior goes on Medicare, it's something to be celebrated. It isn't free, but it's government doing exactly what it ought to do.