Medicare turns 52 years old this weekend. It’s an occasion for both celebration and vigilance. Surely the anniversary of a federal program that has provided quality healthcare for millions of seniors since 1965 is a happy moment. But the fact that this highly successful, highly efficient program is under threat from the right after more than half a century of proven results tempers the celebration – and reminds us all that programs we all rely upon can be snatched away if we don’t protect them.
President Harry Truman first proposed a national healthcare system, but it took a Democratic supermajority in Congress and the relentless advocacy of President Lyndon Johnson to make Medicare a reality in 1965. (Fittingly, Harry Truman received the first-ever Medicare card.)
If it were up to some Republicans, there would be no Medicare in the first place. In 1964. then-Senate candidate George H.W. Bush described Medicare as “socialized medicine.” Republican Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater likened Medicare to giving seniors “vacation resorts” for free. Former Senator Bob Dole bragged that he was there in 1965 “fighting the fight, voting against Medicare.” And then there was this whopper from future President Ronald Reagan in 1961:
“If you don’t [stop Medicare], one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” – Ronald Reagan (1961)
Fast forward to the 1990’s, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed privatization, with the intended result that traditional Medicare would “wither on the vine.” Destroying traditional Medicare has been a long-held dream of the right for five decades now. Unfortunately, with Republicans controlling all three branches of government, this is their best opportunity to make that nightmare a reality.
As we commemorate Medicare’s anniversary, budget hawks in Congress are actively scheming to privatize the program through the budget process. The House Budget Committee’s spending plan turns Medicare into a voucher system and cuts some $500 billion from the program. The budget resolution also raises the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, a huge benefit cut itself. It’s another step toward a long-held goal of the right to destroy Medicare as an earned benefit. And it truly is an earned benefit. Americans pay into Medicare during their working lives, knowing they can depend on it for healthcare in their senior years.
Medicare covers some 58 million American seniors and people with disabilities. Almost every American will need Medicare in their older years. Many literally could not live without it, which is why efforts to turn it into a voucher system and raise the eligibility age are particularly cruel. Listening to the stories of members of our online community, we are reminded that Medicare has a very human face.
Pam Ruigh (Newport, VT): I love Medicare. It has made it possible for me to see again. I had cataracts on both eyes removed, Without these surgeries, I was slowly going blind. – Pam Ruigh, Newport, VT
In 2014, I had aortic valve replacement surgery. That’s a $170,000 operation. All I had was Medicare. I could never have had the procedure without it. – Ron Moore, Utica, NY
Without Medicare and my supplemental insurance, I’d be dead or dying right now. I have multiple but manageable health issues. If this is taken away, I’m a dead woman walking. – Kate Reed
My late wife passed away from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. After her last hospital stay, I received a copy of her bill, showing what we would have been responsible for had we not been under Medicare. It amounted to over $200,000.00. I only had to pay $700.00 out of pocket. – George Betram Lane (Jacksonville, FL)
There are millions of stories just like these, and we know that Medicare beneficiaries around the country share our enthusiasm that Medicare has reached another anniversary.
Yesterday, our president, Max Richtman, and a group of senior volunteers from our Capital Action Team participated in an anniversary celebration on Capitol Hill yesterday with several sister organizations and members of Congress.
There was “Medicare birthday” cake for all, and impassioned remarks from the podium. The main message was: we need to protect and expand – not slash and burn – Medicare.
Representative Lois Frankl (D-FL) reminded the crowd of seniors and advocates that we will fight to keep traditional Medicare intact and thriving. “This is Medicare’s 52nd anniversary,” she began. “And next year, there will be another. And another. And another. I promise you that.”