“Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” Town Hall attendee, Simpsonville, S.C., July 2009
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the signing of Medicare into law by President Lyndon Johnson. Programs similar to Medicare had been proposed before, but Johnson was the president who finally achieved the goal. Medicare followed the success of Social Security, which was signed into law 30 years earlier on Aug. 14, 1935.
Medicare is one of the most important and popular programs in America. When it was first proposed, opponents said that providing health care for senior citizens would lead to the downfall of our country. In 1961, future president Ronald Reagan was part of a campaign called Operation Coffee Cup which attempted to derail a Medicare-type bill sent to Congress by President John Kennedy.
Reagan told people, “Write those letters now. Call your friends and tell them to write. If you don’t, this program, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country ... until one day as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Republicans have been trying to dismantle Medicare ever since it became law. However, despite predictions of disaster, Medicare is serving Americans well, and they know it. On July 28, 2009, President Obama described a letter he had received from a Medicare recipient. She was protesting the Affordable Care Act, and said, “I don’t want government-run health care. I don’t want socialized medicine. And don’t touch my Medicare.”
Arthur Laffer, a proponent of supply-side voodoo economics, said on Aug. 4, 2009, “If you like the post office and the Department of Motor Vehicles, and you think they’re run well, just wait till you see Medicare, Medicaid and health care done by the government.” These people are ignorant and misguided, but their misunderstanding of Medicare is not funny.
First of all, Medicare is a government program. It provides national health insurance for people 65 and older or who are disabled. Recipients pay a monthly premium for coverage. Medicare does not restrict anyone’s choice of doctors. There are no government officials sitting in the examining room with a patient and the doctor; no one is telling doctors how to diagnose or treat patients.
No one is prescribing medication to kill older patients. Medicare patients are not being denied specific treatments, such as cancer treatment or hip replacements, due to age. And most importantly, no one can be denied Medicare coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Once you turn 65, you are entitled to Medicare, period.
In 2012, there were 379,860 Medicare recipients in Nevada. I doubt many of those people would turn down Medicare coverage because they believe their freedoms have been curtailed. Even those who venerate Reagan might disagree with him about that. In fact, what I hear frequently from people is that they can’t wait to turn 65 because they know they will finally have good health insurance.
Every day, nearly 10,000 Americans turn 65. Every day, these Americans know they are going to have affordable health insurance that can’t be taken away, no matter how sick they get. They know they will be able to get the care they need. Before 1965, this wasn’t true. Then, only about 51 percent of Americans 65 and older had health insurance.
“Old people were long considered ‘bad risks’ by commercial insurers, and unions had not made much headway in obtaining coverage for retired workers through employer-sponsored plans,” an official government history of Medicare notes.
According to world statistics, Americans are less healthy and pay more for health care than residents of other industrialized nations. This statistic changes when Americans become 65; then our outcomes match those of other countries. This is because of Medicare.
Perhaps you are one of those who think government can’t do anything right. Maybe you think privatizing everything, as Republicans keep trying to do with Medicare and Social Security, will improve outcomes. Fortunately, most Americans see the lie in those claims. Medicare is proof that government-run insurance can work, and work well, and I am very thankful for that.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.