Forty-seven years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation creating Medicare. Former President Harry Truman attended the signing and became the first person to sign up for the program.
In case you ever wondered, here is what life was like for elders before Medicare according to a Bulletin [pdf] published by the Social Security Administration in 1962, three years before the coming of Medicare.
“At the end of 1962...about 50 percent of the aged population had no health insurance of any kind.”
“Those aged persons most in need of health insurance are the least likely to have it – persons in poor health, the very old, those not employed, and those with low incomes.”
Today, more than 99 percent of elders are covered by Medicare and the poverty rate among elders has dropped from 35.2 percent in 1959 to 8.9 percent in 2009, although the drop is mostly attributable to changes to Social Security and only somewhat to Medicare.
Medicare not a perfect program (see today's story at The Elder Storytelling Place), but improvements do come along. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the prescription drug doughnut hole is gradually closing, there are a bunch of preventive care screenings we have now without co-pays and many enrolled in Medicare Advantage programs have seen their premiums decrease.
In my opinion, the country would be better off with a single-payer system; millions who are younger than we are have no coverage and the hard-working people at Healthcare-Now are asking us to let Congress know that we want Medicare for All.
Not that we shouldn't continue the fight for Medicare for All, but it is a futuristic dream that will take many years of work to accomplish. Meanwhile, we must also not lose sight of the immediate threat to Medicare.
Rich people – yes, the kind who don't need Medicare – such people as Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Rand Paul and pretty much any politician of the Republican Party want to take Medicare away from us.
Mitt Romney's plan, based primarily on the Paul Ryan budget plan, would replace Medicare with a voucher system that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates would increase annual costs to elders by an average of $6400.
Really? I know I would be stuck without coverage. According the U.S. Census Bureau, median income in 2009 for people 65 and older, was $25,877 for men and $15,282 for women. I am at a loss to explain where that $6400 (in addition to current Medicare premiums) would come from and still allow elders a roof over their heads and food to eat.
Good god, it's not enough that we spent the better part of 2005 fighting off President George W. Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security. Now, if Mitt Romney is elected, we'll have to do it all over again to stop him from privatizing Medicare.
It's only about 100 days or so until we will know if that is necessary. But for today, let's celebrate Medicare's 47th birthday and be grateful for the kind of Congress that voted for it in 1965:
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Kathleen Noble: The Medicare Blues