Strengthen Medicare Now

For many, Medicare is their lifeline; their only means of health insurance. Anyone who has worked a lifetime for employers that didn’t provide health benefits knows the respite, relief and peace of mind Medicare provides for people 65+ and individuals with certain disabilities.

Millions of older Latinos spent careers in manual labor, as well as part-time positions – which typically provide few or no health benefits. For these men and women, and others like them, the significance of Medicare – and Social Security – runs deep.

It keeps them from seeking emergency room care and passing those costs on to taxpayers and the government; generating higher costs, huge inefficiencies and minimal health security.

However, Congress and the Administration are looking for ways to balance the budget and Medicare is in the line of fire. Enacted in 1965, Medicare was no arbitrary decision. Before Medicare, no standard health insurance existed for all seniors, but for 46 years, Medicare services have addressed pressing health care needs while improving its coverage over time.

Medicare is definitely costly and the pressure of 78 million aging baby boomers will increase it. But in discussing ways to lower the national deficit and reduce debt, proposals have been laid out that would take apart and destroy Medicare as we know it. Not the way to go!

Have we forgotten why we created this system? In the early 1960s most older people had no health coverage, except the fortunate few who could pay out-of-pocket or found coverage under rare companies with enough vision to see the benefit of group insurance for seniors.

The U.S. was proud when Medicare became a reality. We are a caring, compassionate nation that acknowledges the plight of its most vulnerable citizens and takes steps to correct it. So, how can we, in good conscience, tear down the good thing we thoughtfully created – jeopardizing the lives of 47 million older Americans? Medicare is about living, breathing human beings, not just dollars and cents.

It is a crime to shift the enormous burden of rising health care costs to the shoulders of older Americans by changing the guaranteed, secure structure of Medicare and replacing it with a system that makes seniors buy insurance from private plans covered by a dwindling amount of Medicare premium coverage. That’s not keeping the Medicare promise of secure health care.

Other proposals include arbitrarily capping the annual growth of Medicare spending, effectively turning Medicare into a premium support system. The result could be higher costs and reduced care for current beneficiaries due to spending cap enforcement. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that under one of these proposals, premium costs and co-insurance would double for future beneficiaries – people turning 67 in 2022 – from approximately $5,500 to $12,500.

We can’t maintain our current spending rate, growing deficit or deepening long-term debt. We’ve got to make changes, just as Congresses and Administrations have done in the past. Medicare also needs to be adjusted in these challenging times.

But what about asking different questions, like, “How do we strengthen, build up and modernize Medicare to reduce costs while making it more efficient, effective and affordable for current and future beneficiaries?” or “What opportunities have we overlooked – or avoided – that would reduce the deficit without further burdening Medicare beneficiaries?”

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was controversial, yet AARP supported it because of its many positive points, like its potential to expand health care coverage to more people, promote preventive care, reduce prescription drug costs, slow the growth of Medicare and improve guaranteed benefits. Current proposals seem to fly in the face of these goals.

Times are tough, but let’s not crush the American dream. Let’s not decimate Medicare. Let’s value all our human resources, both young and old. A strong Medicare system shows care and compassion and helps to maintain our dream.

Rocky Egusquiza is VP, Multicultural Markets of AARP.