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McCaskill offers Medicare option for middle-aged people at 46th town hall

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Flickr | McCaskill | April 2015
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McCaskill supports allowing younger people to opt in to Medicare, although they would have to pay more than older enrollees.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is continuing to hold town hall meetings in so-called “Trump Country,’’ part of her Democratic quest to improve her re-election chances next year through reaching every potential rural supporter she can find.

Wednesday marked her 46th town hall event this year, this one in in Washington, Missouri, where about 70 percent of last year’s presidential votes went for Republican Donald Trump. McCaskill told the crowd packing the Washington City Council chambers that she owed it to all Missourians, whether they support her or not,  to “show respect.”

She then fielded questions for more than an hour on topics ranging from guns to health care. McCaskill predicted that Congress will soon take action to curb the use of bump stocks, which are devices that make guns able to fire bullets almost as fast as automatic weapons. The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas in which bump stocks helped one man swiftly kill 58 people at a music festival may have changed lawmakers’ attitudes, she said.

“That’s why they are, I think, seeing, as far as I’m concerned, an unprecedented bipartisan support to highly regulate or outlaw bump stocks,” McCaskill said. “And I think that’s going to occur.”

McCaskill emphasized that she supports gun rights. But she says she’s been frustrated by Congress’ failure to take any action to protect the public from people who should not be armed.

As an example, she cited the failure of Congress to pass a proposal – which she supported – that would have barred people on the nation’s “no fly list’’ from purchasing guns.  Many of the people on the list, she said, were known terrorists.

Medicare “buy in”

McCaskill observed that, until recently, her town hall questions had featured few concerning guns.  The most popular topic, she said, dealt with health care.

The senator said she supports allowing people between ages 55 to 65 to “buy into” the federal Medicare program if they can’t purchase health insurance through their job.

Such an option would require them to pay the entire Medicare premium, without a federal subsidy, so that there would be no additional cost to the federal government.

Besides bolstering Medicare’s bottom line, which McCaskill said was needed, allowing such a move could also lower the price of private insurance premiums sold to other people through the federal Affordable Care Act.

“So if you remove the top end from that pool which is the most unhealthy, 55 to 65, then you improve the quality of the pool in terms of how many claims are going be made out of that pool and how expensive that insurance is going to be,” she said. “So it’s a ‘two-fer.’ ”

McCaskill added that it would be too expensive to provide government insurance for everyone, an option known as “Medicare for All.” She contended that the result also would upset many Americans who are happy with the insurance they now obtain through their jobs. “Medicare for All” likely wouldn’t be as generous, she said.

As for Trump’s proposed tax cuts, McCaskill said she opposed the GOP proposals she had seen so far because they would dramatically increase taxes on the middle class – in many cases by eliminating or cutting popular deductions.

Wealthy taxpayers would see most of the huge cuts, she said. McCaskill – who is considered one of the wealthiest members of the Senate -- added that she would support only those tax changes that would help average Americans.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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