Raise Medicare Eligibility to Age 67, Lawmaker Urges Move in Next Century Would Coincide with Social Security

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THE ELIGIBILITY age for Medicare should be raised to 67 in the next century in tandem with Social Security, the chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee suggested Monday.

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said it would be "crazy" to let people receive Medicare benefits for two years before they can collect full Social Security benefits.

In the Senate, Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Budget Committee, said Senate Republicans pushing for big Medicare savings would propose leaving most of the details to a new bipartisan congressional commission.

Thomas, in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, also called for "reasonable means testing" of Medicare's Part B benefits, which help pay physicians' and other out-of-hospital bills for the elderly and which are heavily subsidized by general revenue.

Thomas also said he would introduce a bill with Democratic support to enhance the portability of health insurance when people switch jobs. The measure would make it illegal to deny a new worker group coverage for a pre-existing condition if that worker's group policy from a previous job had not lapsed for more than 60 days.

Medicare is facing financial crises in the short term and two decades from now when the huge, post-World War II baby boom generation starts hitting retirement age. Republicans are hoping to save more than a quarter-trillion dollars from Medicare over the next seven years to avert bankruptcy in the hospital trust fund by 2002 and to help them balance the budget.

Raising Medicare's eligibility age - now 65 - over the long run would not do anything for Medicare's near-term crisis. …