(Bloomberg News) A congressional panel negotiating U.S. spending cuts should raise the age when people become eligible for Medicare to 67 from 65, a group representing health-care chief executives said Wednesday.
The Washington-based Healthcare Leadership Council included the recommendation in four proposals it said would save $410 billion in a decade, along with having private health plans to cover additional Medicare recipients and make people earning more than $150,000 pay for the full cost of the program's premiums. Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co., the two largest U.S. drugmakers by revenue, are members of the council.
"This supercommittee process is a unique opportunity to do more than simply chop away at budgets," Mary Grealy, the group's president, said in a statement, referring to the 12-member congressional debt panel. The council called for overhauling the legal liability system for medical providers.
Medicare, the U.S. health program for the elderly and disabled, currently covers 47 million people and spends $519 billion a year, according to the Menlo Park, California-based Kasier Family Foundation.
The program is a prime target for the debt panel, which is made up of six lawmakers from each party. Unless members reach a deal to cut $1.2 trillion from government spending, a mechanism will automatically trim 2 percent, or $123 billion, from the $6.1 trillion the U.S. is projected to spend on Medicare in coming years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Lobbying group the American Hospital Association has already backed raising the Medicare age to 67. In a memo sent to hospitals, the Chicago-based group said that cuts to health-care providers would damage the industry, and that instead its members should support the age increase.
Along with the executives from New York-based Pfizer and Merck, of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, the group includes senior executives from Aetna Inc., based in Hartford, Connecticut, device maker Medtronic Inc. of Minneapolis and Deerfield, Illinois-based drugstore chain Walgreen Co.
The council called for raising the Medicare eligibility age in two-month increments until it reaches 67. People who would have been covered by Medicare would have to buy policies through new marketplaces called insurance exchanges created by the 2010 health law.
President Barack Obama said during a July press conference that he would be willing to look at raising the Medicare eligibility age in the future. In a Sept. 9 speech, Obama reiterated that Medicare and Medicaid would both be up for changes, in spite of concerns of fellow Democrats, who have criticized Republican proposals to alter the programs.
"I realize there are some in my party who don't think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid," Obama said in his address to Congress last week. "If we don't gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won't be there when future retirees need it."