Medicare for the young?

Workers today face the same problem the elderly did when Medicare was established.

By Register Editorial Board

If you're under 65, read this editorial.

Granted, the subject is Medicare, something that might normally make you turn the page. You might not think the program matters to you because it's the health-care program for those 65 years old and older. Yet Medicare isn't just about seniors. In fact, this program is really very much about you.

It's you paying for it.

Already, the bill for Medicare is largely footed by working Americans. Payroll taxes cover Part A of Medicare, the hospital insurance. Today's seniors' past contributions only pay about 32 percent of the current cost of their hospital care. Seniors' monthly premiums cover one-fourth of the cost of Medicare Part B for other health services like office visits. The rest is paid for almost entirely by general revenue dollars - dollars taken from the paychecks of working Americans.

Now the new Medicare law will result in younger Americans paying even more.

That means if you're working, you're paying your own health-insurance premium and subsidizing the care of those born before 1939. If you're making minimum wage, you're helping to subsidize Warren Buffet's health care.

That might not seem right, but Medicare was established in 1965 because elderly Americans, who lost their employer-provided insurance on retirement, were struggling to pay for increasingly expensive health care. The only way to cover them was to spread part of the cost to everyone through taxes.

Today, it's not just the elderly who struggle with rising health-care costs. Some 44 million have no insurance, and workers who are insured face rapidly rising premiums, deductibles and copays.

A lot of those Americans would probably opt for Medicare coverage if it were offered for the current price of about $65 a month. In fact, Medicare is similar to what most industrialized countries offer to their entire population: single-payer, government-run, taxpayer-subsidized health care.

Younger Americans should care about Medicare not just because they're paying for it, but because it's a potential model for a system that could benefit them.