By Congressman Bill Keating
July 1, 1966. Charles de Gaulle graced the cover of Time Magazine as his visit to Russia sparked Cold War concerns. Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls was the bestselling book in the country. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was in the theaters. And Medicare took effect.
Now, the new majority in the United States House of Representatives wants to take us back to that time. While the nostalgia might seem pleasant, the harsh reality was that over half our seniors had no health care and over thirty percent lived in poverty then. That is unacceptable, and we cannot run the risk of going back to these drastic levels. Medicare has provided our seniors with a guaranteed set of benefits and affordable premiums. As the average income for a senior citizen is $19,000 annually, the value of reliable health care cannot be quantified.
The majority party, however, is working to eliminate Medicare as we know it. In its place, they argue, should be a system where seniors receive a voucher to purchase private insurance. The vouchers would be for a fixed amount that may not even cover health providers’ premiums.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that seniors could be forced to pay approximately $6,000 out of pocket under this voucher program in the first year alone.
Moreover, the plan would increase prescription drug costs for over 83,000 Medicare beneficiaries in our region who enter the Part D donut hole, forcing them to pay an extra $824 million for drugs over the next decade.
This plan to eliminate traditional Medicare would also have a drastic trickle-down effect on our younger population. Individuals aged 55 or younger today would need to save an additional $182,000 before retirement to make up for the added healthcare costs they would face under a voucher system.
Without question, this voucher program will directly lead to higher costs and reduced services, and will have a devastating impact on the over 17% of Massachusetts’ 10th Congressional District that is currently age 65 or older. In fact, while Medicare spending has risen almost 400% since its inception, private health costs have almost doubled that amount, with private health insurance premiums rising 700% in the same amount of time.
Preserving Medicare is not only the right thing to do for our citizens; it’s the right thing to do for the future of our country. Medicare will cost our country less in the long run then a voucher program or private insurance would. Uninsured seniors tend to delay treatment until absolutely necessary, which often translates into expensive hospital visits. Those costs are ultimately charged to local taxpayers. If Medicare was replaced by a voucher program, seniors would only be able to afford certain, basic services. Thus, if they needed extensive medical treatment, those costs will similarly have to be absorbed by taxpayers. Medicare provides seniors with the affordable options to counter this problem by allowing continuous, preventative treatment.
When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law, he famously said: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”
What President Johnson understood was that the good old days the House majority wants to go back to weren’t so good if you were a senior with health concerns. We need to preserve our senior’s right to Medicare benefits to ensure brighter days for them in the future.