Hoping to expand health care coverage for aging Americans, Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden is among the leaders of a new push to lower the Medicare age from 65 to 60.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in his Lewiston home. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

The second-term Democrat said he’s often heard from constituents “that the only thing standing between them and retirement is the need for health care coverage.”

Others, he said, have told him that “late in their working years, one of their greatest fears is losing health insurance if they lose their job.”

More than 80 House Democrats signed a letter to President Joe Biden this week urging him to lower the eligibility age for Medicare and to expand the program’s benefits to include coverage for vision, dental and hearing care.

Medicare covers more than 60 million people, accounts for 21% of the nation’s health care spending and 12% of the entire federal budget.

Supporters of its expansion are hoping Biden will include the suggested change in his speech to the Congress on Wednesday. The president has a number of times in the past indicated that he likes the idea of lowering the age for Medicare.

But it is a controversial proposal, despite positive polling, because hospitals and other providers worry it won’t carry enough funding to keep them afloat. Many worry about the Medicare Trustees’ increasingly alarming reports that the program could run out of money by 2026 without changes.

In the letter to the president, the members of Congress called their proposal “a critical investment in health care” that would “bolster the security of our country’s economy and families.”

The beginning of a three-page letter to President Joe Biden from U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, Democrat from Lewiston, and more than 80 of his U.S. House colleagues.

Lowering the eligibility age to 60, their letter said, would open the door for an additional 23 million Americans to participate in the Medicare program. It said, too, that if the president wanted to make the eligibility age 55 instead, that would allow more than 40 million Americans to sign up for Medicare.

The representatives said that including their Medicare proposal in the new American Families Plan could be paid for in part by giving the federal government the power to negotiate drug prices for all Americans, saving $450 billion during the next decade, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Joining with Golden as leaders of the proposal are U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania. Jayapal and Neguse are among the progressive wing of House Democrats while Lamb and Golden are among the party’s most moderate members.

Their letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said that “lowering the eligibility age and improving its benefits package would provide immediate and substantial relief for millions of individuals throughout the United States, as well as much-needed long-term security.”

The four said the nation has “a historic opportunity to also make an important expansion of Medicare that will guarantee health care for millions of older adults and people with disabilities struggling with the health and economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders this week urged Biden to lower the age to 50 and make it even more inclusive. Sixteen senators, all Democrats, have signed his letter on the issue.

Sanders, a Vermont senator who ran unsuccessfully for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020, also endorsed adding vision, dental and hearing coverage to the program. 

The eligibility age for Medicare has been 65 since the program’s creation as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative. At the time, it matched the age when the vast majority of people began collecting Social Security.

In the years since, retirement ages have fluctuated more, with many taking earlier retirement at 62 and some waiting longer as full Social Security eligibility shifts toward retirement at 67.

Golden, who lives in Lewiston, has long supported various bills to lower the eligibility age for Medicare. He has in the past backed Medicare for everyone but since taking office in 2019 his focus has been on trying to expand the program’s rolls and add to its coverage.


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