Now is time for smart Medicare decisionsMedicare turned 48 July 30, and this earned program is more important than ever. Before Medicare was enacted, only 50 percent of seniors had health insurance and 35 percent lived in poverty. That was a gloomy time when even a minor illness or injury could bankrupt seniors and their families.
By: Mike Pyne, Superior Telegram
Medicare turned 48 July 30, and this earned program is more important than ever. Before Medicare was enacted, only 50 percent of seniors had health insurance and 35 percent lived in poverty. That was a gloomy time when even a minor illness or injury could bankrupt seniors and their families. Now, in 2013, nearly 50 million Americans are receiving guaranteed health care benefits through Medicare, regardless of their medical condition or income. The senior poverty rate has dropped 75 percent lower than before Medicare became law. In this age of shrinking savings, and small or nonexistent pensions, Medicare is more crucial than ever and we cannot afford to reverse course.
This year’s Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report showed that Medicare’s finances have actually improved. Medicare will remain solvent until 2026. That is two years more than 2012 report and nine years more than 2009.
The Affordable Health Care Act is improving Medicare in several important ways. It has increased years of solvency, made prescription drugs more affordable, prevention screenings have no co-pays or deductibles, and the “donut hole” medication coverage gap is gradually closing.
Despite Medicare’s success in keeping seniors healthy and out of poverty, the program’s guaranteed coverage is under attack by Congress. As part of increasing the debt ceiling, Republicans insist on vouchers for Medicare and further means testing benefits. The budget plan passed in the House of Representatives would end traditional Medicare, privatize it and leave future seniors to negotiate with private insurance companies. It would have seniors pay an additional $6,000 or more each year for fewer benefits while giving the wealthiest Americans and corporations larger tax breaks.
There are much better alternatives to save the Medicare program money, which will not harm current or future beneficiaries. Senate bill 117, introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, would allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to make medications more affordable and save Medicare dollars. Senate bill 740, introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, would require drug companies to provide government discounts for low-income beneficiaries and save Medicare over $150 billion over 10 years.
Putting insurance companies in charge of Medicare is wrong. Shifting costs onto beneficiaries, thereby reducing access to health care for millions of Americans, so the wealthiest Americans and large corporations get increased tax breaks is wrong.
Our vital Medicare program can remain strong for future generations if we make the right choices now. We do not want to be the last generation to retire and have reason to worry about our children and grandchildren’s prospects for a secure life and retirement.
Mike Pyne is president of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans.