Op-Eds

Cuellar: July marks Medicare’s 45th anniversary – celebrating nearly half a century of ensuring quality healthcare for millions

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Washington, June 27, 2011 | comments

Anniversary

On July 1, 1966, the Medicare program was officially launched. The successful enactment was a landmark achievement for the Democratic Party and the nation. Medicare transformed what it meant to be a senior or a physically disabled person in this country by providing health coverage.

In 1964, only 51 percent of Americans over 65 had health coverage. Today, coverage is virtually universal. Forty-five years ago, nearly 30 percent of seniors lived below the poverty level. Today, that number has dropped to 7.5 percent. In addition to experiencing lower poverty rates and enjoying healthcare security, life expectancy has also increased significantly since the passage of the Medicare bill.

Medicare provides health coverage to 47 million Americans, including 39 million seniors and 8 million people under 65 with disabilities. Unfortunately, on April 15, 2011, House Republicans passed a budget that would end Medicare as we know it and replace it instead with a voucher system.

New Plan

Under the proposal, individuals 54 and younger, who become eligible for Medicare in 2022, would no longer be allowed to join the traditional Medicare program. Instead, they would be given a voucher every year with a specific amount of money and would be required to purchase health insurance through a private insurance company. Once the money runs out, seniors would be left to cover any remaining healthcare costs.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, out-of-pocket costs for a typical senior will increase by more than $6,000 a year. By 2032, beneficiaries would be required to pay 68 percent of health care costs, compared to about 25 percent under the current Medicare program.

The Republican budget proposal would also increase the eligibility age of Medicare, raising it to 67 years old by 2033.

Impact to the 28th District of TX

For those currently enrolled in Medicare, prescription drug costs would increase for 4,100 Medicare beneficiaries in the district, forcing them to pay an extra $40 million for drugs over the next decade. Preventive care benefits that went into effect under the Affordable Care Act would be eliminated, impacting 94,000 constituents in the 28th District of Texas.

Individuals in the district who are 54 and younger would experience even greater impacts with the proposed changes – 660,000 would be denied access to Medicare’s guaranteed benefits. Each person between the ages of 44 and 54 would need to save an average of $180,000 to $290,000 during the course of their lifetime to pay for the increased cost of health coverage.

Longtime Healthcare Supporter

My parents and other members of my family are Medicare beneficiaries and I have seen first-hand how invaluable a secure health care service can be for those who need it most. As I have done in the past, I will continue to work to ensure that our seniors, persons with disabilities and children have health care programs that ensure a healthy and high-quality lifestyle.

Programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which I co-authored when I served in the Texas Legislature, has since expanded to cover hundreds of thousands of Texas children. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, 539,137 children in Texas were enrolled in the program as of June of this year.

Responsible Deficit Reduction

At the same time, I understand the need to reduce the national debt and deficit. Earlier this year, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation released a comprehensive legislative analysis on the 111th Congress which named me the only Texas Democrat considered a “net cutter,” meaning the bills I authored or co-authored would have cut federal spending. The total legislative initiatives I proposed would have decreased spending by $8,810,000,000.

While I am willing to work in a non-partisan manner to continue debt and deficit reduction talks, dismantling health security that thousands of individuals have worked a lifetime for is negligent. I will continue my work on behalf of seniors to ensure that Medicare, a promise made to seniors 45 years ago, will be there for our children and future generations.

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