PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s two U.S. senators are backing a bill that would allow Americans to buy health insurance from Medicare once they turn 50.

The federal health insurance program for seniors is currently only open to Americans ages 65 and up. The proposed Medicare at 50 Act would gives individuals ages 50 to 64 the option of paying a premium to enroll in the program at a younger age.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse argued the expansion would lower costs by bringing younger, healthier people into the Mediciare pool while giving older consumers more options.

Reed called the measure “a cost-effective way to get people the health coverage they need when they need it, and it saves tax dollars in the long run.”

The proposal garnered immediate criticism from the Federation of American Hospitals, a trade group.

“There is no question that Medicare works for seniors and others who depend on it,” the federation’s leader, Chip Kahn, said in a statement. “But expanding the program with hospitals facing the lowest Medicare margins in history will make it more difficult to provide the critical care that all Americans expect and deserve.”

The push to expand Medicare comes as Democrats argue over how aggressively to push for further changes to federal health policy, with progressives backing a single-payer plan that could eliminate private insurance altogether. Whitehouse has been a co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer bill, while Reed has not.

Democratic Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin also support the Medicare at 50 bill, their spokespersons said.

Ted Nesi ( covers politics and the economy for He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook