*This letter was also delivered to all Senate Offices
Medicare – one of our nation’s most popular and successful programs – was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965. Before the enactment of Medicare, only 50 percent of seniors had health insurance and 35 percent lived in poverty. That was a time when even a minor illness or injury could bankrupt older Americans and their families.
Fast forward to 2013 and nearly 50 million Americans are receiving guaranteed health care benefits through the Medicare program regardless of their medical condition or income. This includes:
• 41 million Americans age 65 and above;
• 9 million disabled Americans receiving Social Security benefits;
• Over half have annual incomes of less than $23,000, including two-thirds of African Americans and Hispanics with incomes below that level;
• Of the 50 million beneficiaries, 45 percent have three or more chronic conditions; more than percent have a cognitive/mental impairment. Chronic conditions such as diabetes are more prevalent in communities of color.
As we celebrate this 48th anniversary of Medicare, we are concerned with the numerous legislative proposals that would diminish benefits. On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, I write to share with you the improvements to Medicare that we support and the initiatives we oppose.
• Building on provisions in the Affordable Care Act that will provide better care to Medicare beneficiaries and reform Medicare payments to health care providers.
• Initiatives to prevent, detect and recover improper payments, including fraud, waste and abuse.
• Requiring prescription drug rebates for people who are dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.
• Negotiating Medicare drug prices between the federal government and pharmaceutical companies.
• Increasing manufacturer discounts for brand name drugs and closing the coverage gap “donut hole” more quickly.
• Promoting faster development of generic versions of biologic drugs, and prohibiting “pay-for-delay” agreements between brand name and generic pharmaceutical companies.
• Permanently reforming the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, so reimbursement levels do not threaten seniors’ access to their trusted physicians.
• Shifting additional costs to beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are already paying an average 27 percent of their Social Security check for Part B and D in addition to paying for health services not covered by Medicare. Additional costs could lead many seniors to forego necessary care, which, in turn, could lead to more serious health conditions and higher costs. More specifically, we oppose:
- Increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67, which results in higher out-of-pocket costs for 65 and 66-year olds.
- Increasing the Part B Deductible – the Administration’s budget proposes an additional $25 deductible, on top of the existing $147 deductible and $104.90 monthly premium.
- Establishing a home health copayment. The Administration’s budget proposes a $100 per episode copayment, which could result in higher costs to the system as low-income seniors turn to more expensive in-office and in-patient services.
- Attaching a Part B premium surcharge for near first-dollar Medigap coverage. Many seniors depend on Medigap plans to ensure they have predictable and lower out-of-pocket costs.
• Instituting additional means testing of Medicare premiums. Higher-income Medicare beneficiaries already pay premiums of between $209.80 and $335.70 per month. The House-passed budget would affect individuals with incomes of $47,000 and $94,000 for a couple.
• Shifting Medicare to a voucher premium support plan, as in the House-passed budget. This ultimately would end traditional Medicare and limit seniors’ ability to choose their own doctors.
• Repealing provisions in Affordable Care Act that close the Medicare Part D donut hole, provide preventive screenings and wellness exams with no out-of-pocket costs, limit age rating and require insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.
At this critical juncture, on the 48th anniversary of Medicare, we should all recognize that Medicare has kept millions of Americans out of poverty and has provided quality health care. But, we also must note that its ability to continue to do so is under great threat.
I urge you to observe this anniversary, and on behalf of your constituents support improvements to Medicare and oppose proposals that shift costs to beneficiaries.
President and CEO