KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Advocates Push To End Medicare’s Two Year Wait For Disabled

There are 1.8 million disabled Americans who wait two-years to enroll in Medicare. Many say that waiting period can be devastating.

Dallas Morning News reports: "Besides covering 38 million Americans 65 and older, Medicare helps pay for the health care of more than 7 million younger Americans who suffer from significant disabilities. Under current law, however, those with disabilities aren't eligible for Medicare until two years after they begin receiving Social Security disability insurance checks." The paper notes that advocates from 120 consumer groups formed a coalition "which includes the Alzheimer's Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and National Multiple Sclerosis Society – (which) has called for an end to the Medicare waiting period for people with disabilities."

The Dallas Morning News continues: "When Congress extended Medicare coverage to people with permanent disabilities in 1972, it also established the waiting period. Lawmakers added the wait to hold down the cost of the new government benefit, avoid overlapping with private insurance and make sure Medicare would be available only to people whose disabilities were long-lasting. Despite what seemed like sound reasons for its enactment at the time, the 24-month waiting period has left millions of Americans vulnerable at the worst time of their lives, draining their finances and jeopardizing their health, said Stuart Guterman, a policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that researches health care issues. ... Advocates who have pressed for several years for an end to the waiting period view the current health care reform debate as their best chance to make significant headway. Bills introduced by Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., would phase out the waiting period over a number of years while immediately eliminating it for people with life-threatening conditions" (Moos, 7/19).

Such efforts come as many worry about how the aging population will affect Medicare's purse strings.

The Associated Press reports on the growing number of seniors who are older than 100 years: "Once virtually nonexistent, the world's population of centenarians is projected to reach nearly 6 million by midcentury. That's pushing the median age toward 50 in many developed nations and challenging views of what it means to be old and middle-age. The number of centenarians already has jumped from an estimated few thousand in 1950 to more than 340,000 worldwide today, with the highest concentrations in the U.S. and Japan, according to the latest Census Bureau figures. Their numbers are projected to grow at more than 20 times the rates of the total population by 2050, making them the fastest growing age segment. ... In the U.S., centenarians are expected to increase from 75,000 to more than 600,000 by midcentury. Those primarily are baby boomers hitting the 100-year mark. Their population growth could add to rising government costs for the strained Medicare and Social Security programs" (Yen, 7/20).

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