March 29, 2017

The future of Medicare and Medicaid may depend on John McCain. He is one of a handful of Senate Republicans who could serve as a firewall against harmful changes to this crucial program that Arizona seniors rely upon.

The GOP’S American Health Care Act would have cut $880 billion from Medicaid. To his credit, Sen. McCain spoke out against the deep cuts to Medicaid in the House plan.

Even though the GOP bill was pulled, Speaker Paul Ryan still dreams of radically restructuring the program, which will hurt the millions of seniors who depend on the program to help pay for long-term care.

What lawmakers still want to cut

Looking down the road, the majority in Congress has also proposed to privatize Medicare and raise the eligibility age from 65 to 67. These actions could reduce health care coverage and increase out-of-pocket costs for Arizona’s 1,134,000 seniors and people with disabilities.

Sen. McCain could protect those seniors, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet. Half of all Medicare beneficiaries in 2014 had incomes below $24,150, and Medicare households spent over two times more than the average American household on out-of-pocket health care costs.

Arizona seniors cannot afford higher out-of-pocket costs and do not deserve cutbacks in their health care. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the threat that seniors face.

The American Health Care Act would have weakened Medicare by repealing a tax on high-income earners that was helping to keep the program solvent.

The moribund GOP health-care bill is not the only threat. Paul Ryan has long wanted to “reform” or “modernize” Medicare – which really means “privatize.” He and other budget hawks have been using the canard that Medicare is going “bankrupt” and must be privatized.

Medicare doesn't need heavy cuts

In fact, the Part A Trust Fund will remain solvent until 2028 and could easily be fortified by modest and manageable revenue and cost-saving measures – without cutting benefits.

Sen. McCain should oppose the privatization of Medicare, which would send seniors into the insurance market with vouchers that won’t keep pace with rising premiums. While healthier seniors might opt for private insurance, older and sicker beneficiaries would remain in traditional Medicare – resulting in a death spiral for the program.

Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, as House Speaker Paul Ryan proposes, would amount to a large benefit cut. Seniors between 65 and 67 would have to purchase insurance at higher premiums – or forgo coverage altogether if they can’t afford it. According to a new study from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation, raising Medicare’s eligibility age to 67 would result in nearly 2 million additional uninsured seniors nationwide.

It is time to slam the brakes on legislation to privatize Medicare, raise the eligibility age and shrink Medicaid. Beneficiaries only need three Senate Republicans to vote against these harmful changes. Arizona’s seniors and disabled – 1,235,000 of them – are counting on Sen. McCain to have the wisdom to do just that.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Share your thoughts at [email protected]; Twitter, @MaxRichtman.