Lieberman outlines major Medicare proposal

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, stepped into the fray over Medicare today, outlining a proposal to dramatically change the government health care program for the elderly.

“Medicare is hurtling toward its demise – our government is approaching a cataclysmic fiscal tipping point – while Washington is busy posturing for the next election,” Lieberman writes in an op-ed this morning in the Washington Post.

Since Lieberman doesn’t have to posture for the next election-he’s retiring-he has decided to draft legislation that he says will “preserve Medicare without privatizing it” and save “at least $200 billion” over the next 10 years, extending Medicare’s solvency by two decades.

His plan will be controversial, and it’s unclear whether he has any allies in Congress to move it forward. Lieberman said the proposal, still in the works, would:

*Raise Medicare’s eligibility age every year starting in 2014 by two months until it reaches 67 in 2025.

*Require deductibles and co-pays for all Medicare services and add a maximum out-of-pocket benefit

*Increase the premiums for all new enrollees for doctor’s services and prescriptions, starting in 2014, so that revenue covers 35 percent of program costs

*Levy a new tax on wealthy Americans–paying an additional 1 percent of every dollar they earn over $250,000-to increase revenues for Medicare

“Asking Americans to pay more won’t be popular, but doing nothing and allowing Medicare to go bust won’t be popular either,” Lieberman writes in this morning’s piece.

To be sure, Medicare is at the center of the current firestorm over the budget, with most Democrats saying the entitlement program needs to be off the table in any long-term discussions about how to tackle the nation’s debt and most Republicans saying it has to be  a central part of the solution.

Lieberman noted that Congress “has turned the Medicare funding crisis into another excuse for partisan pugilism.” Whether his proposal will change that is far from clear.