By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 10/13/2009 11:47:47 AM ET 2009-10-13T15:47:47

Claim: Most of the problem of the uninsured could be solved by extending Medicare to people age 50 to 64.

As Congress has debated the insurance overhaul, there’s been intense interest in the problem of middle-aged uninsured people who have lost their jobs or who find individual coverage too costly. As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said last year, "Because the prevalence of health problems increases with age, people ages 62 to 64 in many cases have greater difficulty than do younger adults in obtaining insurance in the non-group market." The Medicare eligibility age is now 65. Why not allow people age 50 to 64 to enroll?

Fact or fiction?
Fiction. Expanding Medicare would not solve most of the uninsured problem, only some of it. There are about 10 million uninsured individuals in families where at least one member is 50-64 year old; that’s about one-fifth of all the uninsured. But some think tank experts believe expanding Medicare to people under age 65 is a smart idea. Timothy Waidmann at the Urban Institute said that allowing people aged 50 to 64 to pay premiums to join Medicare would add only an additional small percentage to its annual $500 billion in costs. A Medicare buy-in option would encourage some people to retire early. The downside: "Some of those early retirees could face financial hardship in later years because many people underestimate the financial resources needed for retirement," the CBO said.

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