Sometimes the ?good old days? really weren?t all that good and turning back the clock actually means turning our back on progress. This is especially important to remember as we celebrate Medicare?s 46th birthday. When President Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30th, 1965, 51% of America?s seniors were uninsured and 30% lived in poverty. Healthcare was unavailable for millions of retirees who private insurers wouldn?t cover because they were considered too big a risk. Today, the senior poverty rate is at 7.5% thanks to Social Security and the Medicare program which American retirees can count on to help keep them healthy. Unfortunately, these simple facts are largely ignored in Washington?s current race to gut our social safety net in the name of deficit reduction. As we celebrate Medicare?s 46 years of success, the threat to the program?s future has never been as serious as it is today.The current atmosphere in Washington is one in which decimating programs like Medicare has become a fiscal litmus test for being considered an ?adult?, ?serious? or even a political badge of honor. However, once you step outside Washington it is clear Americans of all ages understand we don?t have to destroy vital programs like Medicare to be fiscally responsible. That message has been delivered loud and clear in town halls nationwide and in poll after poll. Politicians who ignore the real-life impact these cuts, caps and coupon proposals will have on beneficiaries and their families will certainly find they will not be rewarded for their supposed ?political courage? come Election Day.The fact is Medicare isn’t broken but it is plagued by the same problems confronting our healthcare system nationwide. Rising health care costs are eroding family resources, undermining our ability to compete in the global economy and creating fiscal burdens that crowd out other important investments of social capital.That’s not a Medicare problem, that’s a healthcare problem. Yet, many conservatives in Congress continue to urge repeal of the only law to reform our healthcare system in a generation. They?d prefer “reforms” that shift the burden to seniors rather than address the real issues of cost-containment.The GOP/Ryan budget plan would replace the current Medicare program with vouchers and leave seniors and the disabled ? some of our most vulnerable Americans ? hostage to the whims of the private marketplace. Over time, this will destroy the only health insurance program available to 47 million Americans. Vouchers are strategically designed not to keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance — that is why they save money.Rather than destroying Medicare and replacing it with vouchers, raising the eligibility age and barring a growing number of retirees from enrolling in the program, or shifting even more costs directly to seniors, Washington?s goal should be to provide the healthcare retirees need at a cost we can afford. We should continue the course laid out in healthcare reform legislation, which adds 8 years of solvency to Medicare by reducing massive overpayments to private insurers, while also eliminating the doughnut hole in the prescription drug program, and providing other valuable improvements for beneficiaries. Medicare is already far more efficient than private insurance and without it millions of America?s seniors simply could not afford health coverage. Some might die prematurely and many more would suffer needlessly due to a lack of health insurance.Medicare is truly an American success story and one we should be celebrating this July. Unfortunately, these facts are seldom voiced by those in Washington all too eager to make this year Medicare?s final birthday.
Max Richtman, NCPSSM Executive VP/Acting CEO