Dean Baker is one of my heroes. There are lots of smart economists in the world. A small number of them seem to care about humans. And of them, I only know of one who is really creative. So unlike the vast majority of those in that defiled profession who are only good for telling us what won’t work, Baker is forever coming up with clever policy ideas to improve society.
About a month ago on his Patreon feed, he published a remarkable article, Medicare for All 64-Year-Olds. (The article is now public but you should really consider ponying up a buck or five to support him.) In it, he presents a simple idea to implement Medicare for All.
Full Medicare for All Is a Heavy Lift
As much as I support Medicare for All, I don’t hold out any chance of us getting the policy implemented any time soon. Even if Bernie Sanders becomes president and we have majorities in both houses of Congress and we get rid of the filibuster, there are far too many Blue Dog Democrats to get it passed.
And I’m not sure it is best to do all at once. There will be disruption and conservatives will push the narrative that it isn’t just a temporary problem but one central to “socialized medicine.” And the media will report it like it is a fact. And single-payer will be off the table for a couple more generations.
Expand Medicare Eligibility by One Year
Dean Baker’s idea is also really simple: let’s slowly increase who qualifies for Medicare. Right now you have to be 65-years-old. Baker says, “Let’s reduce it to 64.”
And he runs the numbers. He notes that the headline price for Medicare for All will freak people out. And it really doesn’t matter that people will save more by not having to pay for insurance. People don’t think in this way.
But decreasing the qualifying age for Medicare would be cheap with the “total tab of $13.8 billion, less than 0.3 percent of total spending, or roughly the amount the Pentagon spends in a week. It would be pretty hard to argue that this is not an affordable tab.”
Given that these are people already in the process of retiring, the change should not be difficult. And it would serve as a proof of concept. It would make lowering the Medicare age requirement again that much easier. We might even be able to jump to Medicare for 60-year-olds.
I’m not being glib when I say that I am ready for the revolution today. But since I don’t think the American people are anywhere near revolution, I think it is best to make whatever changes we can that help people today.
It’s possible that we will get Medicare for All right away. But it seems unlikely, given the makeup of the Democratic Party. Dean Baker’s idea not only provides millions of people with tangible benefits, it sets in motion a process that could lead to full Medicare for All in a relatively short period of time.