Odd-Couple’s Medicare plan: Tom Coburn & Joe Lieberman’s Would Raise Medicare Age to 67

Jun 28, 2011 6:10pm

ABC News' Sunlen Miller (@sunlenmiller) reports:

High-level negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on how to reform entitlements to reduce deficits and raise the debt ceiling to avoid a default have stalled for now, but a bipartisan duo today introduced their own plan.

Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., introduced a proposal  to overhaul Medicare, and estimated it would cut $600 billion from the deficit over 10 years.

“We can't balance our budget without dealing with mandatory spending programs like Medicare,” Lieberman said. “We can't save Medicare as we know it. We can only save Medicare if we change it.”

The proposal increases the eligibility age for Medicare, gradually rising to 67 from 65, starting in 2014—and would require seniors to pay more for their prescription drugs.  Most of the savings within the plan would come from an increase in premiums paid by seniors. The plan would require higher-income Americans to pay more for their share of Medicare Part A, B and D.  For Parts B and D, wealthier Americans will be asked to pay hundred percent of premium cost.

“Our plan contains some strong medicine, but that's what it will take to keep Medicare alive,” Lieberman said, “We believe our plan administers the medicine in a fair way. It asks just about everyone to give something to help preserve Medicare, but it asks wealthier Americans to give more than those who have less.”

The odd-couple both pointed to areas where they each had to negotiate when pairing up for this proposal.  Lieberman, who once had wanted a 1 percent cap on people making over $250,000 a year to be part of the proposal, gave that up. Coburn allowed wealthier beneficiaries to absorb more of the costs.

“Medicare has to be fixed,” fiscal hawk Senator Coburn said, “We have to change it. You can live in LaLaLand and say, no, it's going to stay the same. It isn't going to stay the same. Even if the Congress doesn't do anything, it isn't going to stay the same, because we're not going to be able to borrow the money to afford it.”

The battle over what changes to make to Medicare is a key debate in the ongoing debt negotiations, as health care for the elderly is one of the largest drivers in government spending. Democrats have said that they will not support any overhaul of Medicare that includes cutting benefits to seniors.

The two Senators acknowledged themselves that there is just about something for everyone to dislike about their plan.

And they were right.

Democratic leaders from both the House and Senate made clear that this is something that they will not support.

“I thought it was a bad idea,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV., today reporters today,  “We should not be cutting benefits now.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that the proposal is “unacceptable.”

“Any changes to Medicare must strengthen the Medicare system and improve the health of our seniors,” Pelosi said today in a paper statement, “It is unfair to ask seniors to get less in benefits and wait longer to get onto Medicare – all while Republicans back tax breaks for Big Oil and corporations that ship American jobs overseas.”

So what’s next for this proposal then? Senators Coburn and Lieberman said that they hope they can get a few more Senators to sign onto the plan, and hope eventually it will be part of the ultimate agreement on the debt ceiling.

-Sunlen Miller

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