Rejoice in our good fortune, my friends. Tomorrow, 30 July 2015, is the 50th anniversary of the day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law. Take a look:
Until I was poking around the internet to prepare this post, I didn't know that President Harry Truman had anything to do with Medicare and actually, universal health care was first proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 but then it got benched for many years.
”...the idea for a national health plan didn’t gain steam until it was pushed by U.S. President Harry S. Truman,” reports Medicare Resources:
“On November 19, 1945, seven months into his presidency, Truman sent a message to Congress, calling for creation of a national health insurance fund, open to all Americans.
“The plan Truman envisioned would provide health coverage to individuals, paying for such typical expenses as doctor visits, hospital visits, laboratory services, dental care and nursing services. Although Truman fought to get a bill passed during his term, he was unsuccessful...”
Which is why Johnson included Truman, then 81, in the Medicare signing ceremony in 1965, and signed him up for the first Medicare card.
Note that both Roosevelt and Truman called for a national health plan for everyone. Getting one for old people is the best Johnson could do politically and even that was struggle to get through Congress.
However, there has been a nascent Medicare for Everyone movement for a number of years and there's no reason not to bring it to the fore again.
To do that, we will need to be extra careful not to elect a Republican president next year and it wouldn't help to move the majority of members in at least one house of Congress to the Democratic side.
Republicans have been trying to kill Medicare since long before President Ronald Reagan said the program would destroy American freedom. (You can decide for yourself if that is what has happened since he said that during his presidency.)
It is a perennial sign of seriousness among Republican presidential candidates to say that Medicare must be killed. Just last week, supposedly moderate candidate Jeb Bush called for phasing it out:
”I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits,” said Bush.
“But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.”
That last part isn't true. Medicare is in better financial shape right now than it has been in more than a decade. As Paul Krugman pointed out in The New York Times on Monday, passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
”...was immediately followed by an unprecedented pause in Medicare cost growth. Indeed, Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations, to an extent that has revolutionized our views about the sustainability of the program and of government spending as a whole...
“Medicare at 50 still looks very good,” Krugman continued. “It needs to keep working on costs, it will need some additional resources, but it looks eminently sustainable. The only real threat it faces is that of attack by right-wing zombies.”
It seems to me that if every western country in the world can supply universal healthcare for its entire population, certainly the United States – which Republicans keep telling is the best in the world at every- and anything – can do it.
Of course, the Medicare we have now needs work itself. That awful drug plan (Part D) is not allowed to negotiate prices. There is no dental coverage to speak of. Another big omission is hearing aids as the president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), Max Richtman, wrote about a few days ago:
”Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults. Yet an estimated 70% of Americans with hearing problems between age 65 and 84 are not using hearing aids.
“With an average cost of $3,000 - $7,000 and zero coverage from Medicare, it’s little surprise that for a senior collecting an average monthly Social Security check of $1,287, hearing aids are seen as a luxury they simply can’t afford.
“In truth, hearing loss which goes untreated can lead to depression, cognitive impairment, life-altering falls, social isolation and a lack of independence..."
Hear! Hear! (so to speak). You can read more about the need to add coverage for hearing loss [pdf] at NCPSSM.
These are not the only problems with Medicare, just a couple of the big ones but even as it stands now, I am grateful to have it because as healthy as I currently am (and grateful for that too), without it, I would not have been able to afford the healthcare I have needed in the past nine years. And I certainly could not afford private coverage.
Even though I know there are potential health issues that can cost me dearly even with Medicare, the peace of mind I have because of it is huge.
Shortfalls notwithstanding, since that day 50 years ago when President Johnson signed the Medicare legislation, the program has vastly improved the lives of elders.
”The elderly’s poverty rate has declined...from 29 percent in 1966 to 10.5 percent in 1995. Medicare also provides security across generations: it has given American families assurance that they will not have to bear the full burden of health care costs of their elderly or disabled parents or relatives at the expense of their young families.”
That paragraph is part of Insight #2 at Center for Medicare Advocacy website where, for the past 50 days, they have published one Medicare Insight per day – one for each year of the program's life. You can see and read the entire list here.
In the run-up to this anniversary, there have been a lot of news and opinion pieces about Medicare. Here are a few you might want to follow up with.
• The brand-new, just published Medicare Trustee's Report - Overview here
• Mother Jones coverage of the Medicare Trustee's Report
• The New York Times editorial on Medicare and Medicaid
• Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich's birthday report on Medicare
And maybe you have a Medicare story to share.