Forty-five years ago this week, the first Medicare checks were delivered, and the United States made a great leap forward.
Before Medicare was implemented—as a social-welfare program designed not just to deliver care but to poverty—one in five Americans lived below the poverty line.
After the program was implemented, and after related “War on Poverty” initiatives were developed, that number was cut almost in half. Poverty among seniors dropped by two thirds.
Why? Before Medicare, millions of elderly Americans could not afford to buy healthcare. They did not have access even to basic care. When they needed treatment for the inevitable ailments that are associated with aging, they and their families spent down what meager savings that retained and a stumble into poverty soon followed.
Medicare broke the vicious cycle for the elderly, as Medicaid did for disabled Americans and their families.
“For more than four decades, Medicare has kept millions of our senior citizens from living out their days in poverty,” explains one of the program’s steadiest champions, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin.
Medicare continues to serve the purpose for which it was created.
Indeed, so much good continues to come of this program—and of Medicaid—that it is difficult to imagine why anyone who seek to dismantle the program. But that is precisely what House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, is trying to do.
“On this anniversary that they should be celebrating, Republicans in Congress are working to privatize Medicare, cut benefits, and force seniors to buy insurance on their own,” Baldwin said Friday. “According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, under the Republican plan, most elderly people will pay more for medical care and get less than they do under Medicare. Not one dollar of that increase in beneficiary costs goes to reducing the deficit—it all goes to cover the higher costs of private plans that the Republicans would force seniors to join.”
Ryan has tried to obscure that reality. But his constituents are on to him. The congressman just received petitions signed by 60,000 citizens asking him to back off his plan to restructure Medicare as a voucher program that word turn federal money away from providing patient care and toward the accounts of private for-profit insurance companies.