The 50th anniversary of Medicare has given us an opportunity to reflect on all it has accomplished to advance the health and well-being of families throughout the country. It also reminds us what could have been better – and what could still be improved.
We are thankful for the vision and fortitude of President Johnson and policy-makers in 1964 who insisted on a national program and refused its funding to segregated hospitals. We thank the 1972 Congress that added people with disabilities to those who receive Medicare coverage. We are grateful to those who expanded home health coverage in 1980 and added hospice coverage in 1982. We honor the years between 1965 and 1990 when Americans were willing to pay slightly more in payroll taxes to expand benefits. We recognize recent improvements to Medicare included in the Affordable Care Act – adding value to Part D drug coverage, new and no-cost preventive benefits to Part B, and years to the solvency of the Part A Trust Fund.
We remember the short-lived Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, which greatly added to coverage for nursing home care, added a respite benefit, and Part B drug coverage – and we regret its repeal. We are grateful for the 2006 addition of drug coverage, but regret it is only available through private plans. We appreciate all the support for Medicare and its anniversary, but regret the ever-increasing fragmenting and privatizing of the program. We are grateful for all Medicare has done to expand access to health care for older and disabled people, but fear it is becoming more oriented towards providers, insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and less focused on the needs and financial abilities of Medicare beneficiaries.
We celebrate Medicare with a renewed commitment to enhancing the well-being of older people, people with disabilities and their families. We call on those in power to honor Medicare by:
- Including a prescription drug benefit in Part B;
- Insisting on the best price for all Medicare-covered medications;
- Committing to parity between private Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare payments;
- Adding dental, hearing aide, and vision coverage;
- Developing a long-term services and support benefit; and
- Ensuring access to a fair and accurate appeals system.
Medicare has been an incredible success. It’s our turn to ensure it continues, in more than name only, and opens doors to health care and economic security for future generations.