Raising Medicare age proposed

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan team of senators aims to raise the Medicare retirement age to 67 and require the wealthy to pay more for their care as part of the White House-congressional effort to dramatically reduce federal deficits.

The plan, authored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would save an estimated $600 billion in the cost of Medicare, the government's health care program for the elderly and some disabled. While the plan is expected to meet strong resistance, some of its elements could be incorporated into a bipartisan deal.

The senators' proposal would increase the Medicare eligibility age, now 65. It would go up two months each year, beginning with people born in 1949, until it reaches 67 in 2025. The age would then remain 67. If the 2010 federal health care law is repealed or overturned, as Republicans want and courts are considering, the age would remain 65.

The senators' effort comes as President Obama plans another round of debt reduction talks today with Senate Democrats. There was no word on when he might talk to Republicans. Obama met separately Monday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Any deal would be part of legislation to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Without an increase, administration officials estimate the government will exhaust its borrowing authority by Aug. 2, which could lead to a default on U.S. debts, chaos in financial markets and a new recession.

Medicare's trust fund is expected to be insolvent in 2024, and its projected annual costs are a major driver of federal spending. The program is expected to serve 48.9 million people this year, and grow to serve about 64 million by 2021.

Reaction to the Lieberman-Coburn plan was lukewarm. McConnell praised the senators for coming up with a plan, but didn't endorse it. Reid called it a "bad idea," while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it was "unacceptable, especially for struggling middle-class Americans."

House Republicans voted earlier this year for a plan to privatize the system.