On this 55th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, not only are both programs succeeding in fulfilling their original missions, they have adapted to the health care challenges of the past five decades and proven themselves anew during the unprecedented COVID crisis. Medicare is saving seniors’ lives by providing affordable, accessible care in the face of a disease that has hit older Americans particularly hard. Medicaid continues to provide this nation’s only dependable long-term care program – while its expansion under the Affordable Care Act covers vulnerable, lower-income Americans, many of whom have lost health coverage during the pandemic.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law on July 30, 1965. Of the new Medicare program, he promised, ‘No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that (older Americans) have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.’ While that promise has been met, both programs are at a critical pivot point in history.
There is a movement in Congress to expand both programs to meet the diverse and growing needs of seniors and lower-income Americans. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare supports the House-passed bill (H.R. 3) that would add limited hearing, dental, and vision coverage to traditional Medicare. Medicare must be allowed to negotiate prices with drug-makers (as authorized by H.R. 3). This is the single most effective remedy for the price gouging that afflicts seniors and all Americans. We support the Affordable Care Act, which improved Medicare benefits and helped extend the program’s solvency – and provided for the expansion of Medicaid to cover millions of the uninsured.
Unfortunately, President Trump and some of his allies in Congress are attempting to undermine both programs. Despite promising ‘not to touch’ either one, the president has called for more than $1.5 trillion in cuts over ten years to Medicare and Medicaid. His administration has tilted the playing field toward private Medicare Advantage plans, which restrict patients’ choice of doctors and have been flagged for overbilling taxpayers. The President wants the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act (in the middle of a pandemic, no less), which would strip more than 20 million Americans of health care and reverse the law’s improvements to Medicare and Medicaid.
These attempts to dismantle health care programs that safeguard seniors, people with disabilities, and lower-income Americans makes today’s anniversary a bittersweet occasion. As we mark the decades of Medicare and Medicaid’s significance, we must continue to fight to protect and expand them in the face of attacks from their opponents. The 2020 elections present an opportunity to choose a president, senators and representatives who will champion the programs that give our citizens the quality health care and dignity they have earned and deserve.