Ten Things Dems Could Do to Win
2. Let's extend Medicare to people 55 to 65.
Remember FDR's first rule. Keep it simple. I can't think of anything simpler and easier for people to grasp than for the Democrats to propose extending Medicare to age 55.
And start now.
For a moment, during the healthcare debate, this idea caught on in the Senate. We should try again. Why? For the purpose of the midterm elections, it should be obvious. People age 55 to 65 are the people who vote.
Remember Bush's drug program, as expensive as it was? At least it made sure that in 2004 he won the state of Florida. The second time, Florida was not even close.
But there are more principled reasons, too. First, we have to make the country more competitive. That means we have to take over the healthcare costs employers pay. Before we get to single payer, let's start with the most medically expensive employees, those age 55 to 65. How do we pitch it?
First, "be competitive." If the government takes over these costs from employers, we lower labor costs. Didn't getting out of retiree healthcare costs (people often 55 to 65) help revive GM and Chrysler? Extend Medicare, and it's like a GM-Chrysler bailout across the board. If we're going to compete with European social democracies like Germany, which are now booming thanks to exports, maybe we need to resort to a bit more "socialist" healthcare to lower our labor costs and let us outsell them.
Let's put America first, right?
Second, as we lift the Social Security retirement age from 65 to 67, we should put those in the 55 to 65 category on an even playing field in terms of labor costs. Indeed, if we expect people to last longer in the workforce, we should do more to sustain them, like Elijah, for the journey.
Third, people age 55 to 65 right now have to cross a kind of no man's land. That's the worker category most vulnerable to getting sick and the one employers have the strongest incentive to cut. This demographic alone could re-elect the Democrats in 2010: think how many are being pushed out for "early retirement." The promise of Medicare picking up their healthcare costs might cause many a boss to hold off the ax.
How to pay? Most of the cost could come from an automatic surcharge—remember, these people aren't paying premiums.
Some may say, "That's a fine idea, but it's too late—the whole healthcare thing is over." But this one, conceptually, is easy. It's certainly a majority vote in the Senate: if anything is budget reconciliation, it's a one-page change in the eligibility rules. Instead of 2,000 pages to say what we're changing, all we need is one. All we need is fifty Democratic votes.
It does something for our base, especially the base likely to vote in the midterms.
It meets all three of FDR's little rules:
It is simple.
It is universal, like Medicare itself.
And it adds up to a plan to bring back the economy and lift the middle class.
If pulling this group off the insurance rolls doesn't bring insurance rates down, then there's every reason to liquidate what's left of the insurance industry. Seriously, what's private insurance left to do?