Today is the 50th anniversary of one of our nation’s most successful efforts to lift people out of poverty with the signing of the law creating Medicare. As caregivers, we know firsthand the difference this signature program from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” has made in the lives of older Americans.
Whether it’s preventative clinical care that keeps seniors healthier longer or the peace of mind that comes from knowing affordable care is there when you need it, Medicare works.
As registered nurses, we have witnessed that fact every day on the job, and the numbers bear it out, too. Before LBJ signed Medicare into law in 1965, only half of the nation’s seniors had medical insurance. Fifty years later, virtually all do.
The poverty rate among seniors has plummeted from more than 28 percent in 1966 to less than 9 percent in 2012. Older Americans no longer have to worry about illness or injury draining their life’s savings or becoming a burden on their families.
That’s huge and the American people understand that. Since 1996, seven in 10 Americans have expressed a favorable view of the program — compare that with Congress, which consistently receives approval ratings of less than 20 percent.
About three-quarters of Americans describe Medicare as important for themselves and their family, and nearly all say it is important to the country. Eighty percent of older Americans think Medicare works well, and a clear majority favors expanding — not cutting — Medicare’s reach.
Over the past few years, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped add years of solvency to the Medicare Trust Fund while saving seniors cash on preventative care, screenings, and prescriptions.
It’s easy to take Medicare for granted. But on its “golden” anniversary, we should recommit as a nation to defending and strengthening a program vital to Americans in their golden years. There’s more to be done to ensure all seniors have access to quality, affordable care.
Through our union’s “Patients Before Profits” efforts, we’re calling for commonsense fixes like ending the prohibition on negotiating lower drug prices under Medicare Part D. If low-income beneficiaries received the same discount Medicaid receives (the state-run program stipulates minimum discounts and often negotiates for more), it would save taxpayers $116 billion over 10 years. This alone would cut the cost of Medicare by about 10 percent a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Many older Connecticut residents are seeing the local community hospitals they rely on for quality care become part of larger health networks through takeovers, mergers, and affiliations. That’s another fight we’ve taken up to ensure access even as small, struggling facilities choose conversion to for-profit status and others opt for service cuts, program shutdowns, or closure.
At the same time, we’re standing up to attacks in Congress by politicians who would cut Medicare by increasing the retirement age. Some have even threatened to turn the program into a voucher system, gutting it, and ending the guarantee of care for seniors. Such a move would only worsen the growing problem of inequality that is making the “American Dream” tougher for workers and retirees alike to achieve.
Nurses and healthcare professionals in Connecticut are working with senior and consumer advocates to strengthen Medicare and ensure access to quality, affordable care for every patient. Together, we are reclaiming the promise of quality healthcare for all and building a stronger, healthier nation.
John Brady is a registered nurse and AFT Connecticut’s executive vice president and Lisa D’Abrosca is a registered nurse and president of L&M Hospital Nurses, AFT Local 5049.
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