Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Senate Turns to Medicare, Medicaid

By Greg Hitt and Janet Adamy
posted by Jameel Murray

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats are considering a significant expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, the health programs for the elderly and the poor, as part of a package of potential changes to health-overhaul legislation that would also sharply scale back a proposed new government-run insurance plan.

The proposals have emerged in closed-door negotiations among 10 Democratic senators -- five moderates and five liberals -- assigned by party leaders to break the political deadlock that has slowed Senate action on the health bill.

Negotiators Monday were considering a proposal that would open Medicare to people ages 55 to 64 if they couldn't find coverage elsewhere. The proposal would allow them to buy insurance coverage at subsidized rates under Medicare, though the subsidies wouldn't be as great as those for people 65 and over, said congressional aides and lawmakers.

A companion proposal would expand Medicaid beyond what is already called for in the bill. Under one scenario, people with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty level would qualify for the program. The poverty level is currently about $22,000 for a family of four.

Both changes would represent major expansions of the programs. They were sought by liberal Democrats after moderates won concessions on the government-run plan that would give private entities a bigger role.

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