How many will die if Barack Obama raises the Medicare eligibility age?

UPDATE: The progressive coalition that’s working the Senate has a new whipcount page here: It lists senators in three categories — the good, the wobbly, and the not-helping. A link from each senator’s name gives office contact information and a report-back form. You can also see what others like you have encountered on a per-senator basis. Good page — please use it. Thanks.

It’s certain that President Obama is entertaining the idea of raising the Medicare eligibility age as a gift to Republicans in exchange for their concession on raising taxes:

In his interview with [ABC’s Barbara] Walters, the president hinted at new flexibility on entitlement spending cuts, but only once Republicans concede on top tax rates. … “If the Republicans can move on that [taxes] then we are prepared to do some tough things on the spending side,” Obama said. … Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 is “something that’s been floated,” Obama said, not dismissing the idea outright.

Just how far rich-people taxes will be raised is anyone’s guess. Obama gets the full 39.6% Clinton top tax rate by doing nothing. Ezra Klein’s guess is that he’ll settle for something like 37% (ish) in order to tempt Boehner into a “bargain.” We’ll see.

My own guess is that Obama will accept the lowest tax increase he can sell to Democrats as a “win” — after all, Obama has hungry corporate mouths to feed, just like the Republicans do. (When you work for the same boss, you tend to have the same goals, right?)

The Dem-side trade for Obama’s request to “Please put the Knife in The Norquist” — by which I mean the infamous “Norquist Pledge” — has to be something equally ugly. Something like Obama’s sell-out of social insurance, which he keeps angling for. The most-mentioned offers include an increase in the Medicare eligibility age (from 65 to 67) and a change in the Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) to make it even less friendly to seniors than it already is. Last shot could be Medicaid. Again, we’ll see.

How many will die if Medicare coverage is reduced?

In the meantime, it’s useful to take changes to Medicare out of the cold-blooded “let’s look at the numbers” world of inhuman DC happy hour discussion, and put the blood back in — by which I mean the “flesh and blood.” After all, human lives are at stake, and outside the Beltway, human lives are a big care-about.

So, just how many seniors will Obama and his compliant Congress people kill if they vote to raise the Medicare retirement age? Matt Stoller at Naked Capitalism has started to put a number to the death count (my emphasis and paragraphing):

death_grim_reaper_324px-Cholera[W]e can and should start to understand what the human death toll might be if we increase the retirement age to 67. If the age goes up, there will be 5 million 65 and 66 year olds who can’t get Medicare for at least a year (7 million for at least a month), and will have to rely on some other system for health care payments. Kaiser has a study out on what would happen to Medicare if the eligibility age goes to 67, but with the assumption that Obamacare kicks in and covers all 66 and 67 year olds with a mixture of employer/retiree insurance, Medicaid, or insurance through exchanges. We can assume, however, that some of these seniors will be uninsured. The Congressional Budget Office says that this number, by 2020, will be 5% (see page 6).

After going through those assumptions and their implications, he gets down to the numbers:

How many of the 5 million affected elderly would go uninsured due to a lack of Medicare availability? And how many of those would die as a result of lacking insurance? … At a 4% uninsurance rate, that’s 200,000 uninsured 65 and 66 year olds. The death rate for people in that age bracket is 1.576% annually, which means that 3152 of them would die as a matter of course. If the death rate is 40% higher for the uninsured in this bracket, which would be consistent with the Harvard Medical School study on working age populations, then this means that 1261 seniors will die because they don’t have access to Medicare.

If you make other, less generous assumptions than the ones that get to the number above (see the article for what those are), you end up with over 2500 dead seniors as a result of this policy. [Updated to correct these numbers.]

And of course, this reminder:

Remember, this isn’t a story of heartbreak and sadness. It’s a story of murder by policy. Medicare isn’t a welfare system where people are getting charity from the state, it’s a social insurance system that these people have already paid for.

Sounds like a bottom line to me. Remember, under any set of assumptions, that number will not be zero.

Killing or collateral damage?

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper via Shutterstock.

So, somewhere between 1000 and 2500 seniors dead because of the Grand Bargain that Barack Obama seems determined to engage in. A reminder, doing nothing gets him two huge wins and no dead citizens.

Stoller calls this “murder by policy.” I’m a Pentagon type myself, so I’ll just call it “collateral damage” — or a down payment on Barack Obama’s legacy and the demise of the Democratic Party.

Complicit Congress types, take note. This decision — which you all are about to make in public — is very much either-or, don’t you think? Vote carefully.

[Updated to correct my numerical confusion.]


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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29 Responses to “How many will die if Barack Obama raises the Medicare eligibility age?”

  1. Papa Bear says:


  2. Papa Bear says:

    I try as often as I can!

  3. Kenneth C. Fingeret says:

    Hello perljammer,

    As one of the actual people on Medicare but under the age of 67 and will be for 18 months plus I would not want to pay $ 10,000 or more for “shit” aka insurance if I was force-ably removed from Medicare. .I would pay the penalty and then if I need some medical assistance I would pay out of pocket until I am back on Medicare. I want single payer if for no other reason than to sodomize the current mis-system! This is another scheme to relieve the 99% of what little is left to us and make the 1% richer than Croesus.

  4. karmanot says:

    —couldn’t agree more! But, the Obamaites virtually purged him after the election he won for them and has been busy cleaning the party of liberals ever since.

  5. FLL says:

    I think that’s why we still need Howard Dean to participate in this national dialogue about health care. He’s the only well-known politician who still champions the public option.

  6. karmanot says:

    I agree Naja. The irony is that my insurance was canceled for an endoscopy that uncovered heartburn. Before the 4ER visits I was 80 pounds lighter, In seeming perfect health and a long distance hiker. It all changed on a dime, in one night—everything collapsed and complex problems unfolded. It could happen to anyone.

  7. karmanot says:

    Yes, It’s time for seniors to develop mattress banking.

  8. karmanot says:

    Can’t, I’m gay!

  9. Naja pallida says:

    It is a national shame that anyone in this country has to go through what you have. There really are no words. I, thankfully, have been blessed with reasonably good health, but I know I’m not getting any younger – and my job is not without risks. I’m not poor, but all it would take is a major health problem to arise for me to have to make some drastic changes to my life. I, again – thankfully, have the option of moving to a country with a health care system, whereas most Americans do not. Well, at least not easily. So barring a traumatic accident, I can probably find a way to cover my own ass… but it still doesn’t mean I don’t want to try and speak up to help others. I still live in the US and consider myself American first; I pay my taxes and buy my insurance on the open market from an American company like a “responsible citizen”. Not being able to pay for their health care should not be a concern on anyone’s mind in a civilized society.

  10. A reader in Colorado says:

    Well, get back in there!

  11. karmanot says:

    I know. I was canceled by Blue Cross for preexisting conditions, couldn’t afford insurance after that, had 4 major ER visits just two months before 65 th and lost my entire life’s savings to pay my bills. After the fourth visit, they shoved me out of the hospital with a catheter and a traumatize mind, saying : “Go find a doctor.”

  12. karmanot says:

    “So, if someone who is able to buy insurance decides not to, and then dies for lack of health care, would you call it suicide?” We could have done without this cynical and trivializing bull s**t

  13. Butch1 says:

    How true.

  14. karmanot says:

    It is also necessary to discuss those percentages in human terms: which mean the recognition that several million Americans will suffer or die without true health care. Aside from the happy talk and a genuine tear, here and there, Obama rules like a sociopath. it is he that killed the public option in a backroom deal against the will of the American people.

  15. karmanot says:

    Murder by Policy: Obama’s solution to everything: Obama Care and its acceptable death rates of 40,000 a year until the 2014 parts kick-in, Cutting even further causing more suffering and death, or Droning villages in Afghanistan. Who could have predicted that a moron like Sarah Palin was right on about death panels.

  16. Naja pallida says:

    All you need is a womb with a view.

  17. Butch1 says:

    Didn’t this liar just say this was unacceptable a week or so ago?

  18. Papa Bear says:

    Oh yeah? Well what about us 70-year-old-post-fetuses?

  19. Naja pallida says:

    Or simply end up with an insurance policy like I do, where to keep my premiums affordable for someone who is self-employed, I have to have a deductible so high that for all but the most expensive of care, I pay out of pocket anyway.

  20. BeccaM says:

    Medicaid is often a lousy alternative, too, because the usual requirement there is you not only need to have little or no income, you also need to ‘spend down’ whatever assets you might have. In other words, before Medicaid becomes your health care safety net, it needs to be your ONLY option.

    And in quite a few states — especially the Red ones — Medicaid benefits really suck.

    Yes, this proposal is going to kill people. So is PPACA, actually.

  21. Naja pallida says:

    Not many 65 year old fetuses out there.

  22. condew says:

    I’ll believe those “subsidies” when I see them. For most people I suspect they will be small to non-existent; nibbled away to “balance the budget” year after year. The net effect will be that you’ll buy insurance even when you can’t afford it and don’t have the co-pays to use it. Government and insurance cooperating to fleece the middle class. It’s OK if we bankrupt you because we’ll take care of you — once you are broke.

  23. perljammer says:

    “Murder by policy”, hmm. So, if someone who is able to buy insurance decides not to, and then dies for lack of health care, would you call it suicide?

    People aged 65 – 67 who become ineligible for Medicare, and who cannot afford to buy private insurance (as required by Obamacare, remember), are entitled by the terms of Obamacare to receive subsidies to offset the cost of private insurance. Right? Doesn’t that mean that those who remain uninsured have decided they’d rather be uninsured and pay the imposed penalty? That doesn’t seem like a rational choice, but we are talking about people here, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that rationality is a rare commodity in the human population.

    I suspect that many people who are in a position to do so, will postpone retirement for a couple of years to retain their employer-subsidized health insurance.

  24. FLL says:

    At present, the percentage of uninsured Americans under Medicare eligibility age is about 16%. You may have your own source of statistics, but the majority of sources that I’ve seen on the Internet estimate that under Obamacare, the number uninsured people below Medicare eligibility age would be 8% (some sources say a bit less) by the end of the present decade. If the Medicare eligibility age is raised from 65 to 67, along with Obamacare, that would raise the percentage of uninsured between 65 and 67 from 0% to 5%, and lower the percentage of uninsured under the age of 65 from 16% to 8% (or somewhat less than 8%, depending on your source).

    The competing proposition offered by the Republicans (before Obama won reelection) was to leave the percentage of uninsured under the age of 65 at 16% indefinitely, on the belief that this was all fine the way it is. The Romney/Ryan proposition for Medicare itself was to privatize it.

    Looking at the above factors, if you use the description “murder by policy” fairly, you would have to apply it to any proposal other than a single-payer system since you clearly can be in need of medical care even if you aren’t between the ages of 65 and 67. There are some Democratic senators and congressmen who support a single-payer system. This was last introduced as the United States National Health Care Act in 2009, with 88 cosponsors out of 435 in the House of Representatives.

    Your “takeaway,” Gaius Publius: If you use the term “murder by policy,” you’ll have to apply it fairly to any federal elected official who doesn’t support a single-payer system, including candidates in the 2014 and 2016 elections. I’m not objecting to the term “murder by policy”; I’m only looking for a consistent argument.

  25. condew says:

    So where are all those “pro-life” Republicans?

  26. nicho says:

    So, just how many seniors will Obama and his compliant Congress people kill if they vote to raise the Medicare retirement age?

    There’s no place on the spreadsheet for that — and no way to factor it in. Besides, they don’t care. Obama has no problem killing people and the Republicans take pleasure in it.

  27. NCMan says:

    Every time that changes to the eligibility age for Medicare is discussed we need to add to the conversation that it doesn’t actually lower the costs of healthcare at all. All it does is transfer some costs from the government to individuals and employers.

    We also need to make sure to note that allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices save MORE money than the age change and the savings are real and not just transferred to beneficiaries.

    There is NO REASON at all to reduce benefits in any way BEFORE taking and and all actions that lower the cost of healthcare without reducing benefits.

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