Should Medicare Coverage Start Sooner?

Mark Miller, a columnist for Reuters (, suggested in a column posted on June 18 that it might save our stressed healthcare system money if Medicare coverage started at a younger age.

He quotes the research of Dr. Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who found that people who reach age 60 in relatively good health are likely to stay healthier as they age.  (This was certainly encouraging to me, having just passed that significant birthday myself!)

She suggests that, if adults beginning at age 50 had Medicare coverage for the relatively inexpensive screenings and preventative care that they might otherwise be skipping,  they might avoid much more expensive care for both chronic disease and acute conditions later in life.  For  example, Dr. Fried points out that “seventy percent of cancers could be prevented if we can get people to stop smoking and improve their diets. And there’s clear evidence that a substantial portion of strokes and coronary heart disease can be avoided by blood pressure screening.” Obviously, preventing these conditions would not only save money, but vastly improve the quality of life for both seniors and their families.

The Affordable Care Act has already reduced the number of uninsured adults between ages 50 and 64. But many seniors have stayed away from the ACA, partly because of the belief that it is too complicated, or that it’s not for them.  On the other hand, the process for enrolling for Medicare is well-publicized and made quite simple by the Social Security Administration.

While Dr. Fried’s suggestion is provocative, it would be a tough sell at a time when the federal budget proposes cuts to health programs.  However, the suggestion that it will pay off for all of us – both in our pocketbooks and our wellbeing – if we focus on lifestyle improvements and preventative measures beginning in our 50s, is something that we can all implement right now.




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