Congressional Corner: The Promise Behind Medicare

Congressional Corner: The Promise Behind Medicare

By Representative Tim Bishop (NY-1)

Social Security has been the bedrock of retirement security for America's seniors since the program was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. With the creation of Medicare in 1965, America’s safety net was strengthened and a new promise was made to every senior – that caring for their health would not cause them to bankrupt themselves or their family.

These commitments are just as important – if not more so – for today's retirees. The Congressional District I represent on Eastern Long Island has a higher proportion of seniors than the nation as a whole, and my older constituents often speak about their concerns with making ends meet on a fixed income. The average senior on Social Security receives approximately $12,000 a year, and for many this basic benefit is their only source of income. It is also important to bear in mind that fifty percent – a full half – of Medicare beneficiaries had annual incomes below $22,000 in 2010.

That is why I strongly oppose any risky privatization schemes that would subject Social Security to the uncertainty of the stock market and/or renewed efforts to undermine the Medicare guarantee of comprehensive, affordable care. Dismantling this guarantee would send retirees into the private insurance marketplace that refused to provide affordable coverage to seniors before the creation of Medicare in 1965. Unfortunately, these wrong-headed proposals continue to garner support among many Republicans in Congress.

Instead of dismantling Medicare, I support taking steps to strengthen the program and improve the level of care that seniors receive. Passage of the Affordable Care Act three years ago extended the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by eight years until 2024. This was accomplished by squeezing waste and abuse out of the system, and making it more efficient, without reducing benefits for seniors. Medicare Part B premiums have also held steady over the past three years, thanks in part to provisions of the health reform law.

In addition, more than 6.3 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved more than $6.1 billion on prescription drugs since the healthcare law was enacted due to the law's closing of the coverage gap known as "the donut hole." And in 2012 alone, more than 34 million seniors and people with disabilities with Medicare received at least one free preventive service—such as mammograms, cholesterol checks, cancer screenings, and annual wellness visits—with no Part B coinsurance or deductibles. It is worth noting that all of these benefits would be lost under the recently passed House Republican budget, which repeals the Affordable Care Act.

While we all recognize the need to reduce the federal deficit, we cannot balance the budget on the backs of seniors who have earned the retirement security that only Social Security and Medicare can provide. America has a moral obligation to keep the promises we have made to retirees, and I will continue to work as hard as I can in Congress to ensure that all Americans enjoy comprehensive healthcare and economic security in their golden years.