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Changing Medicare Eligibility: Where’s the Savings?

If Medicare stops offering coverage for 65- and 66-year-olds, who picks up the tab?

As Congress and the White House debate the menu for a new fiscal diet, raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 is a favorite dish for some. And it’s certainly a favorite topic for Washington journalists, interest groups and opinion makers to dish on these days.

The change would save the Medicare program 5 percent over the next 20 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office brief. That would help both the debt-burdened U.S. Treasury and the Medicare program itself, which will soon struggle to handle coverage for boomers.

But while raising the eligibility age could save the program $5.7 billion in 2014, points out health policy reporter Sarah Kliff in her piece “5 Ways Raising Eligibility Could Change Medicare,” she cites a report by Kaiser Family Foundation that finds “other parts of the health care systems would spend $11.7 billion more providing the same health care benefits.”

Here’s who will pay instead:

Here are two opposing points of view:

“We want to see improvements that actually lower health care costs, not simply change that makes seniors pay more for health care.” – David Certner, AARP legislative policy director

“When people first began receiving Medicare benefits in 1966, the average 65-year-old old lived another 15 years; today that figure is 20 years. It’s little wonder that Medicare costs have grown 14-fold, in real terms, since 1970.” – Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget

As negotiations about the “fiscal cliff” continue, we’re bound to have a heaping serving of viewpoints to sort out.