Rep. Jan Schakowsky with members of the National Committee's Capital Action Team on Medicare's anniversary

Medicare supporters in Congress typically celebrate the program’s anniversary with cake and balloons.  But not this year.  Democratic leaders decided that the 53rd anniversary of Medicare (and Medicaid) was an occasion for solemnity.  Slices of birthday cake were replaced by protestations about the program’s future under Republican rule – highlighting exactly what’s at stake in November’s elections.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare (and Medicaid) into law on July 30th, 1965.  To mark the anniversary, members of Congress, advocates, and ten yellow t-shirted volunteers from the National Committee’s Capital Action Team (CATs) gathered in the stately Rayburn Room of the Capitol last Wednesday, July 25th, just before summer recess.

Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), David Cicilline (D-RI), and Doris Matsui (D-CA) excoriated the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans for betraying the promise of Medicare, which President Johnson articulated at the signing ceremony 53 years ago:

“No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine.  No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime. No longer will young families see their own incomes and hopes eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, 7/30/65

President Lyndon Johnson signs Medicare into law in 1965

Former President Harry Truman, who first tried to enact a health care program for the elderly in the 1940s, was the first official Medicare beneficiary.  Since 1965, Medicare has provided health security to several generations of American seniors. Medicare beneficiary (and National Committee volunteer) Patricia Cotton took to the podium at the Capitol to deliver a powerful personal testimonial for the program:

“I have Myelofibrosis. It’s a blood cancer. My cancer meds started at $10,000 every 30 days and have gone up twice in two years. Cancer meds are very expensive. My Medicare Part B and D premiums have gone up, and that is coming out of my Social Security check. That is why, without Medicare and Social Security, the rich will live and the poor will die.” – Patricia Cotton, Medicare beneficiary, 7/25/18

 National Committee volunteer Patricia Cotton speaks at Medicare's 53rd anniversary event on Capitol Hill

Cotton questioned why conservatives continue to target seniors’ modest benefits while at the same time corporations and the wealthiest Americans get trillions in tax breaks. “Medicare is not the problem, our messed up fiscal priorities are,” she said.

House Republicans have proposed devastating changes to Medicare, which are detailed in a recent report from the House Democrat’s Seniors Task Force.  The GOP’s 2019 budget proposal includes:

*$537 billion in Medicare cuts

*$1.5 trillion from Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act

*Privatization of Medicare using vouchers (“coupon care”).  

*Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67

*Repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which covers millions of older Americans on the threshold of Medicare.

This tracks closely with President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, which breaks his campaign promise “not to touch” Medicare – along with Social Security and Medicaid, two other targets of the Republican spending proposals.

Medicare – a signature achievement of Johnson’s Great Society – has always been in the right wing’s sights, but even more so in the wake of the Trump/GOP tax scam (enacted on December 22, 2017), which opens a nearly $2 trillion hole in the federal debt.  The ink on the tax scam was barely dry when conservatives from Senator Marco Rubio to Speaker Paul Ryan declared that Americans’ earned benefits would have to be cut to pay for it.

“We can’t let December 22, 2017 be the date that led to the erosion of a national treasure, Medicare.” – Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), 7/25/18

Insisting that it isn’t fair for elderly beneficiaries to cover the cost of tax breaks for the wealthy and profitable corporations, Rep. Matsui pledged that Democrats will continue the fight for Medicare (as well as Medicaid and Social Security) against the onslaught from the political right.

“We must recommit to defending Medicare against constant cuts and sabotage.” – Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), 7/25/18

The representatives also pledged to continue the struggle to allow Medicare to “negotiate like crazy” with Big Pharma for lower prescription drug prices, dinging the Trump administration for being all talk and little action on this front.

“Democrats believe that seniors shouldn’t have to cut pills in half to afford prescription drugs.  We need a president who will work with us to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, to compel drug makers to justify cost increases, and to crack down on price gougers.” – Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), 7/25/18

With a rallying cry of putting working Americans before the interests of the “wealthy and well-connected,” speakers at the anniversary pledged that, if Democrats prevail on protecting Medicare, the cake and balloons may return next year.  As Rep. Schakowsky put it, “Hopefully, we will be able to celebrate, knowing these benefits are safe and secure.”

National Committee's Capital Action Team volunteers at Medicare's 53rd anniversary, with Rep. Jan Schakowsky and NCPSSM president Max Richtman