The misguided Medicare Crisis Program Act (MCPA) recently introduced by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (DWA) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA) would enroll millions of Americans under the age of 65 in Medicare, the already-struggling government insurance program for seniors. Medicare Trustees project that the program’s Hospital Insurance trust funds will be depleted by 2026, even without any eligibility expansion. 

Though on the surface the bill would appear to assist seniors by eliminating Medicare premiums and limiting out-of-pocket expenses to 5% of income for all current and future beneficiaries, it would eventually deprive the Medicare Supplementary Trust fund of billions of dollars in revenue each year, edging it toward depletion as well and harming the very seniors and disabled Americans for whom it was created. Adding the uninsured to this program crowds out precious resources and services intended to benefit our aging Americans. 

Likewise, the bill would double the Medicaid income eligibility established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obamacare, sending more able-bodied individuals onto that exploding program, which was originally intended as a safety net program for vulnerable populations, such as poor pregnancy women, children and people with disabilities. Expanding Medicaid means increasing the national debt and encouraging individuals and employers to drop private plans. It would make it even more difficult for those currently on Medicaid to access services as few physicians accept Medicaid patients due to low reimbursement. The pandemic is exacerbating this problem now, as hospitals are reeling from loss of income. Though the bill promises that the federal government will pick up the lion’s share of the costs of the expansion and includes an unlikely sunset of the program, it all falls back on the American taxpayers and crowds out other services. 

Understandably, policy writers in both federal and state capitols feel pressured to address the growing uninsured population created partially due to governments’ reactions to this pandemic that caused some businesses to close and others to lay off workers.  But this puts business owners in a unique and challenging position: They must entice furloughed employees off generous unemployment benefits and back to work. Expanding Medicaid coverage, while it might seem like a compassionate thing to do, will only worsen this dilemma and further discourage Americans from returning to work, which is ultimately better for their health and their long-term financial security. 

Rather than MCPA, there are less harmful, innovative steps that could be taken. For example, this week the IRS made it possible for employees to join an employer plan originally rejected at open enrollment. Some states are permitting a special enrollment period for their marketplace. Hundreds of uninsured are discovering affordable short term plans with no waiting period, while employers are setting up Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) to pay toward those employees’ personal, private plans. Legislators could pass SB3112 to permit any plan to be Health Savings Account (HSA) compatible to allow, not only employers, but friends, family, charitable foundations and even governments to contribute to the premium of any plan, giving individuals assistance and choice.  

Any approach taken should not expand government-run health programs or harm current beneficiaries on them, especially seniors who are already most shaken by the Covid-19 epidemic.