by Bill Whitaker and Cheryl Simpson
With all the commotion in the courts about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it would be easy to overlook an important birthday. July 30 is the 49th anniversary of the public health insurance program that covers our nation's seniors and people with severe disabilities. It's a birthday to be celebrated by all of us!
Medicare became law in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Before Medicare, the elderly faced poverty, fear of being stricken by costly illness, and dependency on family or charity despite working for many years. We all know that Medicare coverage is a resource we count on for our grandparents, parents, and ourselves as we near the magic age of 65. What a life-saver Medicare has been! Today Medicare is the nation's most popular social program.
Medicare offers 49 years of living proof that public, universal health coverage is superior to private insurance in every way. Medicare is more efficient than private health insurance, its costs have risen more slowly, and yet it provides better access to care, better financial protection, and higher patient satisfaction. Medicare has had the single greatest impact in our country’s history in reducing racial inequities in health care.
Unlike the rollout of healthcare.gov and state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare was implemented smoothly and at low cost because the program is universal and didn’t juggle enrollment in hundreds of private insurance plans.
The Medicare program is not perfect, of course. It has burdensome co-pays and deductibles, and its benefits could be better. But Medicare is cheaper and much more popular than private health insurance. Expanding Medicare to all ages would save more than enough to eliminate co-pays and deductibles, and guarantee comprehensive coverage for all.
We need a system that provides everyone with guaranteed medical care from birth to death. All other developed countries cover everybody, pay half as much for their healthcare as we do, and provide better outcomes. America is the only developed country allowing the healthcare system to be run by private corporations that have transformed medical care into a commodity to be bought and sold.
We need improved “Medicare for All”, a single-payer national health insurance system in which a single agency organizes healthcare financing. Under a single-payer system, all residents of the U.S. would be covered for all medically necessary services, including doctor, hospital, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs.
America now spends trillions on healthcare each year, and wastes at least a third of it on administration, corporate profits, a fragmented system, and ineffective or unnecessary clinical care. Having one system that is accountable to the people, focused on quality patient care, and based on medical need and not ability to pay, changes the whole vision of healthcare.
Medicare for All would be funded with savings obtained by replacing today’s insurance driven system and modest new taxes based on ability to pay. An estimated 95 percent of the population would spend less on healthcare than they do currently.
Medicare for All would not only extend coverage to everyone below age 65, but it would improve coverage for seniors--Canada’s universal plan covers 79% of seniors’ costs compared with 51% covered by Medicare in the U.S. It would make Medicare financially sustainable--Medicare would have saved $2 trillion if its costs had risen at Canadian rates since 1980.
To celebrate Medicare’s birthday, Health Care for All-Oregon activists are gathering throughout the state for rallies, special events, leafleting, postcards to legislators, op-eds and letters to the editor spreading the word that we want healthcare for all people in Oregon.
Let’s improve and expand Medicare to everyone living in Oregon and the US. Join us and stand up for healthcare for all. Check out http://hcaoef.org/stories-project/ for stories about everyday Oregonians hurt by our current insurance dominated system; more information about our movement to bring single-payer healthcare to Oregon; how you can connect with local action groups and how you can help to bring healthcare for all people in Oregon.
It’s just the right thing to do because healthcare is a human right!
La Grande residents Bill Whitaker and Cheryl Simpson are active members of the Oregon Rural Action Health Care Reform Action Team. They are both board members of Health Care for All-Oregon where Cheryl chairs the statewide Mobilization Committee and Bill serves as Treasurer.