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Thursday, 31 July 2014 07:50

Medicare's 49th Anniversary for Seniors: Single-Payer Coverage for All by Its 50th

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medicareforall(Photo: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

On Wednesday, July 30, many official events celebrated Medicare's 49th anniversary of providing health coverage for seniors. Before President Lyndon Johnson signed the law enacting Medicare coverage, seniors in the United States received erratic often bankrupting care.

By all accounts, all but the most ardent elderly Tea Party stalwarts laud Medicare for its freedom of choice in providers and relative simplicity in claims processing.

Although the Affordable Care Act is hopefully a political holding position until single-payer health care for all is enacted in the US - thus catching the nation up with most of the rest of the developed world - there are still right-wingers whose goal is to dismantle the current Medicare system.

Let us listen to the public - and not the chattering pundit class - for a change on healthcare coverage, as reflected in this letter to the editor in The Hartford Current by West Hartford resident Win Heimer:

There are some in Congress who continue to call for benefit cuts for retirees and disabled Americans. For example, there continue to be calls to cut Medicare benefits by raising the age of eligibility, means-testing benefits, requiring home health co-pays and limiting Medigap coverage. These changes would do nothing to reduce the cost of health care, but instead, shift costs to beneficiaries.

July 30 is Medicare's 49th birthday. What better way to celebrate than by strengthening Medicare through a better alternative that will not harm beneficiaries? Congress should pass the Medicare Drug Savings Act introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Rep. Henry Waxman of California. This legislation will require drug companies to provide the government discounts for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, saving the government and taxpayers $141 billion over 10 years and all but eliminating the need to cut benefits or shift costs to beneficiaries.

Yes, Medicare is not perfect. Big Pharma is still making billions of dollars in windfall profits because the Bush Administration, in implementing Medicare Part D, prohibited the federal government from negotiating Medicare medication prices with pharmaceutical firms. It is hard to get politicians concerned about cutting the federal deficit to shut off the multi-billion government gift to the drug industry.

Poll after poll indicates that the overwhelming majority of seniors find Medicare to be an effective health care delivery system. It would vastly improve the health of the nation and decrease medical costs to simply pass a bill implementing Medicare Part E for everyone under 65 years of age. Only insurance company executives and shareholders would lose out if they were removed from the health care delivery system, as taxpayers racked up medical cost savings by eliminating unseemly profits from medical care.

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, backs the idea of Medicare expansion for all:

“Currently, most people deal with an overly complex system that fails to provide the same benefits our seniors receive through Medicare. By expanding Medicare, we can create a sustainable health care system and ensure that all Americans can get the coverage they deserve.”

Vijay Das, also with Public Citizen's Congress Watch argues in a CNN commentary the particular need for establishing universal health care coverage for women:

Today women consume the most health care services. They have greater annual health care expenses than men and pay a greater proportion of their health care costs out-of-pocket. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that about one in five women is still uninsured. More than half these women struggle with their medical bills.

The story is even worse for low-income women, who are more likely to forgo treatment because of its cost. About 4 million low-income women can cover only themselves and are unable to receive financial support to purchase insurance for their families.

Women make up two-thirds of the low wage workforce -- and only 23% of low-wage jobs provide employer-sponsored health insurance. Obamacare was supposed to help. But 3 million low-income and minority women live in states that have yet to expand Medicaid, leaving them unable to obtain Obamacare's coverage for our most vulnerable families, which was promised in the law.

Above all, the economic health of a nation depends upon a nation being healthy. The only way to ensure that goal is through Medicare coverage for everyone in the United States.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.