Not Dead Yet

‘Expanding Medicare is an unvarnished, complete victory for people like me,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s the mother of all public options. We’ve taken something people know and expanded it. . . . Never mind the camel’s nose, we’ve got his head and neck under the tent.”

Weiner’s glee at the rumored death of the “public option” is highly revealing. Weiner is one of the most fervent supporters of a government-run insurance program within heath-care reform. News reports of a Senate deal in which the government option would be laid to rest should have triggered blood-curdling screams by the pro-government-option Left. Instead, they are singing like birds about a substitute for the supposedly deceased government option.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) proposes to expand Medicare by inviting into it, for the first time, Americans from ages 55 to 64. If this is approved, the Washington Post estimates, about 6.5 million Americans in that age cohort who lack health insurance might sign up if given access to Medicare. But the buy-in, as it’s called, could be much bigger. Some 33.7 million Americans from 55 to 64 could become eligible for this brand-new benefit.

“This is what should have been done in the first place,” former governor Howard Dean (D., Vt.) told CBS News. “I do think this is a positive step forward. I think using Medicare makes much more sense than reinventing a different bureaucracy.” Dean is no centrist. He is a solid-left Democrat, confirmed single-payer advocate, and former Democratic national chairman.

“If this helps them get a bill, that’s a major plus,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) told the Wall Street Journal. “It has the potential to appeal to progressives, and others as well.”

While more cautious in her praise, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) endorsed this idea on Thursday. She said “there’s certainly a great deal of appeal” in broadening Medicare.

While not exactly doing cartwheels, the left-wing Daily Kos website welcomed Reid’s “funeral” for the government option. It praised “the idea that Howard Dean started floating this summer — lower Medicare eligibility to age 55 in year one. It wouldn’t be comprehensive health-care reform, but it would be significant help.”

Far short of the death of the government option, this expansion of Medicare dresses it up in a new, custom-tailored pinstripe suit. As Pacific Research Institute president Sally Pipes notes, this proposed increase in the Medicare population would happen just as this massive institution copes with unfunded future liabilities of $36.4 trillion (with a T) in its Part A hospital program and $37 trillion in its Part B doctors’ program, the diversion of $464.6 billion into Obamacare, and the entire system’s scheduled bankruptcy in 2017.

Free marketeers and moderates who may have been comforted by greatly exaggerated reports of the government option’s demise should oppose this idea even more vigilantly. It is just a government option, if only a bit more dashing.

As for government-option fans like Weiner, they barely can contain themselves. Harry Reid’s “compromise,” Weiner told the Journal, “would be the largest expansion of Medicare in 44 years and would perhaps get us on the path to a single-payer model.”

But why stop Medicare’s expansion at age 55?

“What is so magical about the number 65?” Weiner wonders. “If we provide Medicare to seniors over the age of 65, why not provide it to Americans 55, 45, 35, or 25?”

— Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top