On Medicare's 45th birthday, let's pledge to keep it alive

July 1, 2011
Op-Ed

Published in the San Jose Mercury News and Huffington Post.  

By Anna G. Eshoo

Forty-five years ago, on July 1, 1966, Medicare was launched. Seniors had a pathway to plan for and save for their retirement, and for the first time in U.S. history, they had a guarantee of health coverage. With it came the peace of mind that medical bills would no longer drive them into poverty: Before 1966, only 1 in 8 seniors had health insurance; the rest exhausted their savings, sold their homes or went bankrupt trying to cover medical costs.

Earlier this year, House Republicans, led by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, released their proposal to cut government spending by dismantling Medicare. They passed a plan that would give seniors a limited voucher to buy private insurance, effective in 2022. Those 65 and older would not be affected, but the plan breaks the promise our country made more than 40 years ago by jeopardizing seniors' access to health care and their financial security.

It's difficult to fathom the magnitude of this change for the people in our community and our country. If the Republicans have their way, each resident in my district between the ages of 44 and 54 will have to save an average of $182,000 to $287,000 to pay the increased cost for health insurance. Young people under 30 would have to save even more -- an average of $644,000 in the course of their lifetimes -- to pay the increased costs associated with the Ryan plan.

In the 14th District alone, the Republican plan would:

• Increase prescription drug costs by more than $80 million for 8,100 current Medicare beneficiaries entering the Part D "doughnut hole."

• Eliminate new preventive care benefits for 83,000 current Medicare recipients.

• Deny 500,000 people 54 and younger access to Medicare's guaranteed benefits.

• Increase the out-of-pocket costs of health coverage for Medicare beneficiaries by more than $6,000 per year in 2022, and $12,000 in 2032. These costs would be borne by more than 100,000 people now between the ages of 44 and 54 in our district.

Privatizing Medicare will revive the broken system that prevailed half a century ago, exposing a new generation of seniors to an insecure retirement.

There is no question that we must control the costs of Medicare. We began to do that with the new health care reform law, which saves $430 billion for Medicare in the next 10 years. It focuses on preventive health, which experts agree is a critical way to reduce costs and improve public health. And Congress should allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs, just as Veterans Affairs does today, saving billions every year. All of these changes will add decades to the trust fund.

I pledge to do everything I can to end this misbegotten privatization effort. My 80,000 senior constituents deserve Medicare with a guarantee that they can access doctors, hospitals and medicines when they need them.

On this anniversary, it's up to our generation to strengthen the promise made so wisely 45 years ago.

Honor thy mother and father. Medicare has.