By Representative Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Forty-nine years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law and by doing so made a solemn agreement with every single American. Simply put, if you work hard and play by the rules, Medicare will be there for you when you retire.
Before Medicare, only half of our nation's seniors had health insurance and for far too many, a mild illness or injury could lead to bankruptcy or even death. Today, more than 47 million Americans receive Medicare benefits and have the peace and security of knowing that quality healthcare will be there for them when they need it.
But the promise of Medicare is in jeopardy today because some in Washington have misguided priorities. A proposal put forth by Congressman Paul Ryan that I was proud to vote against earlier this year, would end the Medicare guarantee by turning the traditional program into a handout for private insurance companies.
Under the 'Ryan Budget,' Medicare would be turned into a private voucher program. But these vouchers are unlikely to keep up with healthcare costs, and could require seniors to pay more out-of-pocket for their healthcare. In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2030, seniors would be paying nearly 70% of their health care costs out-of-pocket, with the vouchers picking up only 30% of the bill. It has also been estimated that seniors would end up paying up to $6,400 extra for healthcare each year under the Ryan Budget.
The Ryan Budget would not only force seniors to pay more for their healthcare but it would reopen the Medicare prescription drug 'donut hole,' forcing many seniors to pay more for their life-saving prescription medications.
This approach is unacceptable to me and reflects the wrong values and priorities. I'll never forget the elderly woman from Galesburg, Illinois who came up to me on the campaign trail last year to tell me how important Medicare is to her well-being. She pleaded with me to fight to protect Medicare because she couldn't afford even an extra $64 in out-of-pocket costs for her healthcare, let alone the additional $6,400 the Ryan Budget could put her back.
I am committed to working with both Democrats and Republicans to take common sense, reasonable steps to strengthen Medicare and make sure it is strong for both current and future seniors. These sensible reforms include implementing electronic medical records, improving coordination of healthcare services, and continuing efforts to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse from the system.
We need to work together to reduce the deficit in a balanced way, not on the backs of seniors and middle class families who have worked hard, contributed their fair share and played by the rules all their lives. I ran for Congress to fight for Illinois seniors and I’ll continue to do my part to protect and preserve Medicare, so it will be strong for the working families I represent for the next forty-eight years and beyond.
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos represents Illinois' 17th Congressional District. She lives in East Moline with her husband, Gerry. They have three grown sons.