Medicare turned 53 years old last month. The Congress elected during this year’s midterm elections will likely determine what Medicare’s future is, including whether it will continue meeting the promise made to those who have paid into the system over the years.
That’s why it is in the best interest of every American voter to find out whether their member of Congress will work to improve Medicare on behalf of beneficiaries or cut Medicare and pass the costs on to the rest of us. With this in mind, we need to show up at the polls and vote.
Medicare accounts for 15 percent of the federal budget, no small sum. So when politicians in Washington start talking about deficit reduction, some of them always look for ways to reduce Medicare spending, despite the fact that most of us have been paying into Medicare for years in advance. Proposals for cuts mean less coverage and more out of pocket cost for Medicare recipients.
One proposal has been to give people a voucher of a fixed amount to buy private insurance, and if the voucher doesn’t pay for needed coverage, recipients pay the rest. Americans pay into the Medicare out of every paycheck, and they have the right to fully expect Medicare to live up to the promise that it be there for them.
Medicare is an incredibly good value. Every year 98 percent of the Medicare budget pays directly for the health care needs of its 60 million beneficiaries—people 65-plus and adults with disabilities. Only about 2 percent of the Medicare budget is spent on administrative overhead. Private health insurance companies invariably spend double digit amounts on overhead and profit.
Prior to Medicare’s enactment, three quarters of older Americans had no health care coverage. They and their families were just a minor illness away from financial ruin just trying to get well. Before signing the bill creating Medicare, President Johnson said, “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”
Medicare is important to you if you are disabled or 65 years old—or if you plan someday to be 65. Further, there is something you can do to assure Medicare is protected. Hold every candidate for the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives accountable for Medicare’s future. When you vote in the midterm elections in November, be sure the candidates are on the record with an answer to four questions:
1. Do you believe Medicare should be cut as a way to reduce the budget deficit?
2. Do you favor converting Medicare to a voucher program?
3. What changes would you make to ensure that individuals continue to get promised benefits?
4. Do you support expanding coverage to include hearing, vision, and dental care?
Politicians in Washington argue and posture, but they don’t seem to get very much done. When it comes to Medicare though, midterm election voters can change that by raising their “do no harm to Medicare” voices at the polls.
Bob Jackson is the director of AARP Texas.