Hey, let’s raise the Medicare age!

Badgered on all sides by yon lean and hungry Cantor and the teabagger caucus, Speaker John Boehner makes a counteroffer to the White House, and as Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff explains, there are a lot of reasons why his proposal to raise the Medicare age is a bad one (even if Jacob Lew, rumored to be the next secretary of the Treasury, is said not to have a problem with it):

House Speaker John Boehner has made his counter-offer on deficit reduction and, as my colleague Lori Montgomery reports, it floats the idea of raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.


This isn’t a new idea: It’s come up in a lot of deficit reduction proposals of years past, as economists and legislators stare down a Medicare program eating up a growing chunk of the federal budget.


The idea has, however, gained a bit more traction since the Affordable Care Act passed. If the Medicare age were raised, the thinking has gone, the 3.3 million 65- and 66-year-olds would still be guaranteed access to health coverage through the tax subsidies. The lowest-income seniors — those earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty line – would qualify for Medicaid.


That’s the upside. Health care economists see a number of downsides, too. For one thing, Medicare tends to be a pretty efficient program. Its costs have grown slower than private health insurance plans. The Center for Budget Priorities and Policy estimates that, while the federal government would save $5.7 billion, the rest of the health care system would end up spending $11.4 billion more to provide those same benefits.


Seniors themselves would end up spending $3.7 billion more as the benefits on the exchange would be less robust than those currently covered through Medicare. Employers would end up footing part of the bill, too, continuing to sponsor an additional two years of coverage.


That $2.5 billion in orange on the chart above comes from increasing the premiums that a lot of other people pay for their health insurance coverage. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that moving these seniors into the health insurance exchanges would increase premiums there by 3 percent, as the larger insurance pool absorbs a patient population that tends to be older and sicker than its younger counterparts.


Medicare premiums likely would go up too. These seniors would be the more expensive enrollees on the exchange. But when it comes to Medicare, they’re the least expensive patients, the younger population with fewer health care needs than, say, the 90-year-old cohort.


There’s also concern that these seniors might not even have an option should the eligibility age get raised as some states do not plan to expand their Medicaid programs. That could leave any senior who earns less than 133 percent of the federal poverty line — about $15,000 for an individual — without any coverage option at all.

Not to mention that many, many specialists refuse to take Medicaid patients — a real hardship for the elderly.

Handing Rupert a monopoly

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is trying to change the agency’s ownership rules to pave the way for Murdoch to get control of the newspapers in the same cities where he already owns TV stations. Even more disturbing, Genachowski and Murdoch are trying to keep this under the radar, hoping we don’t notice.

Rupert Murdoch, in addition to being the malignant force behind Fox News, is the lawless conservative who’s under investigation in England for phone hacking, influence peddling and bribery. Now he wants to own the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune — major papers in the nation’s second- and third-largest cities — and the FCC wants to help him? I don’t think that’s a good idea. Do you?

Unsatisfied with his media empire in the UK and Australia and his several media holdings in the United States like TheWall Street Journal, the New York Post, and Fox News, Rupert Murdoch wants more. He wants a media monopoly.


Murdoch is currently jockeying to buy the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, which just so happen to be the largest newspapers in the nation’s second and third largest cities. That will add to his current media empire in the United States, which includes the most watched cable news network in the nation, Fox so-called News, and the most circulated newspaper in the nation, The Wall Street Journal. The only thing standing in Murdoch’s way of full-spectrum media domination in America are Federal Communication Commission rules that forbid one company from owning both a newspaper and a television station in one community. Murdoch already owns local television stations in both Chicago and Los Angeles.


But according to sources within the FCC, Chairman Julius Genachowski is quietly planning to scrap those rules. Under pressure from major media moguls like Murdoch, who see big bucks and huge political power in a consolidated national and local media, Genachowski circulated a new order to other FCC Commissioners that would allow for cross-ownership of TV and newspapers in the nation’s twenty biggest media markets.


A similar effort was made in 2007 by George W. Bush’s FCC, but it was shot down after the Senate voted to repeal it and a federal court blocked it. Not to mention, 99% of the public comments the FCC received opposed that media consolidation effort.


But, undeterred, Murdoch and other media moguls kept lobbying, and now President Obama’s FCC is expected to consider these rule changes again in December. And if Americans don’t get involved in this issue and pressure the FCC to say “no,” then Murdoch and his billionaire buddies will likely get what they want, which is complete domination of our news media.


In fact, as Ben Bagdikian points out in his book, The New Media Monopoly, the United States is already dangerously close to falling victim to a complete media monopoly. Today, only five corporations – one of which is Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp – own the majority of all the media seen, read, or listened to by Americans. If the FCC gets completely out of the way, then further consolidation will follow suit.

You can send a message to the FCC here.

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