EBRI Issue Brief

Medicare on Life Support: Will It Survive?

Sep 1, 1997 24  pages


  • This Issue Brief discusses Medicare reform. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 reduces spending in the Medicare program by $115 billion between 1998 and 2002. Most of the reduction in spending comes from reducing payments to providers, and most of the savings (36 percent) occur in 2002.
  • By 2007, the Part A trust fund is expected to be insolvent, four years before the baby-boom generation reaches the current Medicare eligibility age of 65. Congress is likely to revisit Medicare reform in the near future.
  • A number of reforms received a significant amount of attention during the Medicare reform debate, but were not included in the final legislation. The Senate-passed legislation would have increased the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, imposed means testing on Medicare Part B, and imposed a Part B home health copayment of $5. While these provisions were not included in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, they may be the focal point of future Medicare reform.
  • Many changes to the Medicare program are likely to significantly affect employment-based health plans for both active and retired workers. Raising the Medicare eligibility age would undoubtedly affect both workers and retirees. Unless workers are willing to work until age 67, their likelihood of becoming uninsured would increase. In 1995, 15.8 percent of retirees ages 55-64 were uninsured, compared with 11.5 percent of workers in the same age group. Early retirees might also find themselves unable to afford health insurance in the private market.
  • An Employee Benefit Research Institute/Gallup poll indicates a direct link between the availability of retiree health benefits and a worker's decision to retire early. In 1993, 61 percent of workers reported that they would not retire before becoming eligible for Medicare if their employer did not provide retiree health benefits. If workers responded to an increase in the retirement age by working longer, employment-based health plans would probably experience an increase in costs, because older workers are the most costly to cover. Some employers might respond to an increase in the Medicare eligibility age by dropping coverage altogether.
  • The message for future beneficiaries is becoming very clear: expect less from Medicare at later ages and higher premiums. As was true prior to the enactment of Medicare in 1965, workers will increasingly need to include retiree health insurance as an expected expense as they plan and save for retirement.