Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Medicare turns 50!

On Thursday, July 30th, we celebrate Medicare’s 50th birthday.   This will be a joyful day for seniors of America!  After nearly a half century, Medicare has a lot to be proud of.  Thanks to Medicare, millions of older Americans are able to enjoy retirement without the fear of medical expenses that could bankrupt us and our families.  In this age of shrinking savings and small or nonexistent pensions, Medicare is more important than ever.

 Retirees and workers should be very concerned over the drastic changes some of our elected officials want to make that would threaten the dream we all have for a safe and secure retirement.
These changes would include cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and to Social Security – not to just one of these programs, but to all three!  We have some Governors actually refusing federal funds that would expand Medicaid in their states.  And when it comes to Medicare, many want to pass costs onto seniors through benefit cuts, means testing, increasing the Medicare eligibility age, or privatization.
All of this leads us to a clear conclusion: Medicare remains strong, and is not in any immediate financial danger.  While the long term financial future of the program is important, there is no need to rush to drastic action.  Unfortunately, too many in Washington demand harmful Medicare cuts despite all this.  They claim that they want to help seniors and ensure the program’s future.  But it makes no sense to cut benefits now unnecessarily.
Fortunately, we can ensure that Medicare keeps celebrating birthdays for decades to come.  And we can do it without harmful benefit cuts.

  • Congress should reject proposals like the Ryan Republican budget that would cut Medicare funding by turning it into a voucher program.  It takes away traditional Medicare benefits and replaces it with a “coupon” to purchase insurance in the private marketplace.  It would end Medicare as we know it, leaving us at the mercy of private insurance companies.
  • Congress should reject proposals that further means tests Medicare benefits.  Medicare Parts B and D are already means tested for individuals with incomes over $85,000, and couples with incomes over $170,000.  More means testing is a direct attack on the middle class.
  • Congress should also reject proposals that shift Medicare costs to seniors.  Proposals to charge a surcharge to individuals who have Medigap do not deal with the rising costs of health care but, instead shifts costs on to beneficiaries.     Likewise, proposals to institute home health co-pays will penalize those who can least afford it – the oldest, sickest, and chronically ill.
  • Congress also needs to reject proposals like the Ryan Republican budget that raise the eligibility age for Medicare beneficiaries.  Proposals that have you wait two more years to get Medicare by raising the eligibility age to 67, leaves you on your own when you are most vulnerable.  You’ll either have to find a job that provides coverage, when you are at an age that most employers don’t want to hire you; pay for coverage yourself, at a time in life when your income is likely declining; or become impoverished so you are eligible for Medicaid.

Instead of these awful proposals, Congress should enact the Nelson – Caster Medicare Drug Savings Act, S. 1083 and H.R. 2005.  This legislation, which will require drug companies to provide discounts to the federal government for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, will save the government and taxpayers $121 billion over 10 years.  This is a sensible alternative that will save the Medicare program money without harming beneficiaries.

Between common sense reforms like the Medicare Drug Savings Act and the savings from the Affordable Care Act, we can feel confident about the future of Medicare as it celebrates its 50th year and we intend to make sure it is still strong now and for our children and our grandchildren!

Ginny Moles is Senior Caucus Director for the WV Democratic Party.