U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldin: More choices for quality, affordable health care | Column

Throughout this spring and summer, Washington was consumed by a debate over partisan attempts to take health care away from millions of Americans and raise costs for too many families.

In response, Wisconsinites joined people across our country in speaking out and fighting back against a number of Republican repeal plans that would have increased the number of people who are uninsured and forced many families to pay more for less care. People across our state made sure their voices were heard when Congressional Republicans advanced a plan with an age tax that would have priced many older Americans out of the individual market.

The people of Wisconsin did not send me to Washington to take people’s health care away. They have sent a clear message that they want us to work across party lines to make things better, not worse.

Earlier this month, I joined my colleagues Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and six other senators to introduce the Medicare at 55 Act, which would provide the option for people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare.

There are 41 million Americans between 55 and 64 years old, and 3.6 million of them lack any insurance coverage. Millions more are burdened by high insurance premiums, unaffordable deductibles and limited options.

These friends, family members and neighbors face unique health challenges and especially high health care costs. The average person in this age group pays more than $1,200 in annual out-of-pocket costs and is at a greater risk of suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes or arthritis and medical emergencies such as heart attack and stroke. In addition, according to AARP, about four in ten have a preexisting condition.

Fewer and fewer employers offer coverage for workers who retire before 55. According to a recent study, in 2015 only 23 percent of large employers offered retiree coverage. The lack of affordable health insurance can have especially severe consequences for this population’s health and retirement savings. We should work together to change this.

Our new legislation gives millions of older Americans another choice to buy affordable, quality health care coverage. For people between the ages of 55 and 64, the Medicare at 55 Act is a high quality option that can help reduce health insurance costs and increase competition.

Medicare is an efficient, affordable health care program that is already serving millions of Americans. With the Medicare at 55 Act, an individual between the ages of 55 and 64 who buys into Medicare would be entitled to the same benefits and protections as an individual enrolled under parts A, B and D, including the ability to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Individuals who choose to buy into Medicare would be eligible for the same tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies they would otherwise receive selecting a private plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

By offering this new option, we may be able to strengthen the individual market, lower premiums and help make coverage more affordable for younger and healthier individuals. At the same time, our legislation protects our current generation of Medicare beneficiaries by ensuring that it won’t impact their benefits or the solvency of the Medicare program.

If our goal is to lower health care costs, which both parties agree we must address, then our legislation merits consideration as a critical piece of the solution. 

Medicare is an essential pillar of our health care system that has served Wisconsin families well for more than 50 years. Since 1965, Medicare has been a trusted source of affordable health care for millions of older and disabled Americans. 

As we move forward to provide more Americans with more health care choices, our Medicare at 55 Act can offer a quality option for people to get the affordable health care they need and deserve. I strongly believe that if both parties look past the partisan debate in Washington, we can work together to find solutions that make health care more affordable and work for the American people.

Baldwin, of Madison, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, previously serving in the House of Representatives since 1999.

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