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Happy Birthday Medicare

Each July we celebrate Medicare’s passage in 1965 and its undeniable success in keeping millions of American seniors from poverty each year.  Unfortunately, far too many others in Washington will continue to spend this Medicare milestone month searching for ways to dismantle the program in the name of “deficit reduction”.  Washington’s fiscal hawks continue to see this economic crisis as the perfect opportunity to attack programs they have never supported in the first place.  Remember Paul Ryan’s “This is not a budget. It’s a cause” clarion call? There has been a lot written recently about the ongoing Washington budget talks and the campaign to slash Medicare benefits, while also preserving tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. In celebration of the Medicare success story, we’ll highlight some of our must-read recommendations for those of you who share our view that Medicare should not be sacrificed at the altar of Washington’s debt reduction idols.  We simply can’t continue to ignore Medicare’s role in the fiscal and physical health of middle class Americans and these articles help illustrate why:

Medicine has changed, but the need for Medicare has not. Senate floor statement by  Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

“Today, virtually every American over 65 has access to health care. And the number of seniors that live below the poverty line has dropped by 75 percent. That’s no accident. Medicare provides 47 million Americans with the access to care and the protection from poverty that Truman envisioned more than 65 years ago. And Medicare and Medicaid don’t only protect seniors from poverty – they also protect those seniors’ children. Forty-six years ago, middle-class families often spent themselves into the poor house honoring their commitment to their fathers and mothers. Today seniors and their children have the security that Medicare and Medicaid will be there to honor that commitment – providing health care and nursing home care when they need it.”

Big Medicare cuts to reduce deficit unpopular. Reuters coverage of new Kaiser Foundation Poll.

“Few Americans would support major cuts to Medicare to reduce the federal deficit, but many would be okay with minor savings in the popular healthcare program, a survey released on Thursday said. The latest tracking survey on healthcare issues by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the public is more willing to accept Medicare spending cuts if done to shore up the elderly healthcare program rather than for deficit reduction or avoiding tax increases. The survey's findings are important because the future of Medicare is at the heart of high level discussions over the $1.4 trillion annual deficit and $14.3 trillion U.S. debt.”

Medicare Proposal Could Stress Strapped Seniors. NPR coverage of Coburn/Lieberman Medicare legislation.

“Half of seniors had income lower than $22,000 in 2010; 25 percent had income lower than $13,000. Only five percent had incomes above $85,000. And while 91 percent of today's Medicare beneficiaries have savings, in most cases those nest eggs aren't nearly enough to pay substantial medical bills. Half of seniors have savings less than $50,000; a quarter have less than $8,400 money set aside. Ten percent had more than half a million dollars, half of those people had a million dollars or more. Yet even with today's Medicare coverage, health spending accounted for an average of nearly 15 percent of the average Medicare household's budget in 2009, according to another Kaiser study. That's three times the health care spending for those not on Medicare.”
Here is something fun we urge you to share with your friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever your favorite form of online communication.  Download the Picture or just forward the link to help spread the word that gutting Medicare is not a “cause” you or the vast majority of Americans support.

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Will Health Care Reform Destroy Medicare?

That’s certainly one of the huge whoppers at the heart of this summer’s anti-health care reform fear-campaign. Problem is...it’s just not so.  We’ve written about this a lot (even before the craziness this summer) and have compiled all of our policy pieces on our Truth Squad web page.  We’ve also released the 2nd video in the Truth Squad series today.  Watch it...Share it and Comment on it! Over the past few days, there have been a number of other reasonable and rational descriptions of what current health care reform proposals actually mean for Medicare.  Kaiser Health News’ Howard Gleckman says:  

“Opponents of health reform have targeted seniors with a blunt message: You will be big losers if "Obama-care" is enacted. In the words of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele: "Senior citizens will pay a steeper price and will have their treatment options reduced or rationed."  Scary words. But, in truth, seniors are likely to be big winners if responsible health reform passes and prime victims if it fails. The casualties will not only be today's elders, but the Baby Boomers, who are the next generation of seniors. They will all pay the price if the existing health system is allowed to fester.”
And on Huffington Post, AARP’s John Rother, emphasizes the fact that benefit cuts are not proposed in any of the House or Senate plans (regardless of what Michael Steele says): 
“Let's face it: We need to make sure we save Medicare money, as every member of Congress well knows. But we need to protect benefits while at the same time we target waste - and we now have an opportunity to make smart savings that actually strengthen the program.  Take the problem of unplanned readmissions to the hospital. Follow-up care and guidance to help patients after discharge could lower costs as much as $17 billion a year. Reducing readmissions not only would save money, it would spare elderly patients the anguish of returning to the hospital due to poor follow-up care. " Another hunk of savings could come from gradually reducing the billions of dollars of subsidies the government pays to private insurance companies, known as Medicare Advantage. These subsidies cost the government 14% more per patient than traditional Medicare. Those tax dollars should go to helping seniors, not boosting insurance company profits. "
 Lastly we have to share the Associated Press’ “Spin Meter” analysis of the GOP’s new found love for Medicare.  Their lead line is “Weren’t Republicans against Medicare before they were for it?”  Indeed.

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Town Hells and Medicare

Fear sells.  Fear motivates.  Fear scares people into acting worse than they would allow a toddler to behave.   But, as we've seen in recent coverage of Congressional Town Halls gone wild, fear does not produce intelligent discourse, constructive consultation or anything of real value to the current debate on health care reform.  For American seniors, fear of change and fear of reforms that could diminish their life-saving medical coverage under Medicare is especially acute.  It's this fear that has led industry-backed Astroturf groups and conservatives opposed to real health care reform to target seniors with a disinformation and intimidation campaign of frightening proportions.  These political opportunists are telling seniors that the government has targeted them for euthanasia, that they will foot the bill to insure the rest of America and that healthcare reform is converting the country they love into a socialist regime.  Never mind that many of the same people telling these lies about health care and Medicare now,  never supported Medicare in the first place. This isn't just politics as usual.  We here at the National Committee attend scores of Congressional town hall meetings each year to help members address issues impacting seniors in their district.  These sessions (before now anyway) were opportunities for voters to have some one-on-one time with their members of Congress.  Attendees ask questions and members answer them. Seniors often have questions about how Medicare and Social Security will be impacted by what's happening on Capitol Hill.  But now, seniors' legitimate questions will never be heard because these town hall disrupters have an entirely different goal in mind.

"Try To "Rattle Him," Not Have An Intelligent Debate: "The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions." leaked Town Hall Political Action memo
Here's what America's seniors need to know about health care reform but may never hear through all the noise: 
  • Health care reform bills proposed in the House and one Senate Committee include several important reforms for Medicare beneficiaries such as, closing the Part D doughnut hole, allowing government negotiation of drug prices in Part D and eliminating billions of dollars of wasteful subsidies to private insurers in Medicare.
  • We must pass meaningful health care reform. Slowing the cost growth throughout the entire health care system will improve Medicare's long-term fiscal picture.
  • There is more work to be done to ensure the final health care reform package sent to the President provides improved access and care to the insured, the uninsured, and beneficiaries in Medicare. The process is not finished!
That's why it's important that seniors educate themselves with the facts about the health care reform debate.  Attend a Congressional Town Hall meeting prepared to ask the legitimate questions seniors should be asking about health care reform and Medicare's role in that reform.  This debate is too important to allow ourselves to be destracted by lies and the politics of fear.

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House Health Care Reform and Medicare

We've now got specifics from the House on their version of health care reform legislation. The National Committee has worked hard to mobilize support for Medicare proposals that would improve efficiency and care for millions of Medicare beneficiaries while also providing savings for system-wide health care reform efforts. As President Obama has said, America does not face an entitlement crisis; we face a health care crisis.  That's why we believe it is imperative that health reform addresses cost growth throughout the entire health care system, not simply in the Medicare program.  Here's Barbara's statement from late Friday night after the Energy & Commerce committee vote:

"American seniors have a lot at stake in this health care reform debate and the National Committee applauds the House for taking an important first step in reforming our health care system for Americans of all ages.  The three Committee bills reported out of the House include several important reforms for Medicare beneficiaries such as, closing the Part D doughnut hole, allowing government negotiation of drug prices in Part D and eliminating billions of dollars of wasteful subsidies to private insurers in Medicare. But there is more work to be done to ensure the final health care reform package sent to the President  provides improved access and care to the insured, the uninsured, and beneficiaries in Medicare." Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

Next up, we should see the Senate Finance Committee version of health care reform and it will undoubtedly look alot different than what we've seen in the House. Meanwhile, we'll keep urging Congress to support meaningful health care reform legislation, which protects Medicare's 44 million beneficiaries while also improving care and access for all Americans.

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Happy Birthday Medicare

44 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating Medicare.  Given the current debate about system-wide health care reform and the role Medicare will play, now is the perfect time to reflect on the programs' success in keeping millions of seniors and the disabled healthy.   Our policy analysts have prepared The Future of Medicare: Demographics vs the Cost of Health Care, which is recommended reading for anyone keeping up with this health care debate.  Here are two other Medicare articles we highly recommend you read as we celebrate this anniversary.  First, this post at the Wonk Room and then Marie Cocco's piece at Truthdig.  We loved "The Marvel That Is Medicare" so much that we're providing a long excerpt here:

Happy Birthday, Medicare. It's a fine time-perfect, in fact-to celebrate the government-run, taxpayer-supported colossus in the American health care system that turns 44 this week. Medicare has done all it was supposed to do, and more.   It thrives despite apocalyptic warnings from its original opponents that "socialized medicine" would hamper doctors, hospitals, patients-perhaps even doom the entire American health care system. Medicare is exceedingly popular and remarkably well-functioning despite its current critics' claims that it is singularly wasteful, out of control in some never-specified way or, at the very least, holds the potential to bankrupt us all in the next generation. Medicare is where political posturing runs headlong into historical truth: It is, along with Social Security, the most successful government program-other than its unrivaled military-that the United States has ever created.  And it has delivered for elderly people what President Barack Obama and at least some Democrats say they want to deliver for the rest of us: universal coverage ensuring that people with medical problems will not become impoverished by their illness, with patients offered a guaranteed set of services and a choice of private doctors, hospitals and other practitioners when they need treatment. "Medicare was a comprehensive-and comprehensible-program, available throughout the country and with a core set of benefits," says Judith Stein, director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. In other words, it delivers the opposite of what the private insurance industry has been providing. And it is doing so with a better track record of controlling costs. Beginning in 1997, the growth in Medicare's cost per beneficiary has been slower than the cost escalation in coverage delivered by private insurers. Between 2002 and 2006, for example, Medicare's cost per beneficiary rose 5.4 percent, while per capita costs in private insurance rose 7.7 percent, according to MedPAC, an independent agency charged with advising Congress on Medicare issues.  
Medicare is an American success story which can serve both as a model and as a tool for system wide health care reform.  However, we must be sure reform remains the goal not just cutting Medicare benefits to foot the health care reform bill.

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