If you’ve turned on the TV during the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard a lot about Medicare. Signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, Medicare stands as one of the greatest federal programs. Since that time, life expectancy has increased by 8.5 years and virtually all individuals over 65 have health care coverage. Without Medicare, 48 million older and disabled Americans simply would not have access to health care.
Proposed reforms to Medicare have arisen following debate over how to reduce the federal deficit. As the cost of health care continues to rise across the board, Congress must address the escalating costs of maintaining Medicare’s solvency for future generations.
One way we have done this under the leadership of President Obama is through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Signed into law in 2010, the ACA addresses Medicare solvency and will extend the Trust Fund by eight years by cutting fraud and abuse in the system and reducing taxpayer subsidies to insurance companies. Further, ACA is reducing the cost of health care while expanding benefits to seniors. Already seniors have seen the costs of prescription drugs in the “donut hole” reduced and many preventive services are provided at no out-of-pocket expense. In the face of these reforms, Republicans in Congress have voted more than 30 times to repeal the ACA, and in doing so eliminating the aforementioned improvements to Medicare.
Unfortunately, repealing the Affordable Care Act is not the only harmful Medicare proposal put forward by Republicans in Congress. Spearheaded by Rep. Paul Ryan, who serves as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, his budget proposal would drastically alter the Medicare program from its current form.
The Ryan Plan, as it is commonly referred, would have a disastrous impact on the aging American population. Though it preserves current enrollees and those expecting to be on Medicare within the next decade, future beneficiaries will no longer have access to the successful single payer model we know and recognize as Medicare. Instead, it would establish a voucher program for Medicare patients, where individuals will chose from a menu of private plans with the “voucher” helping to pay the premiums. This plan eliminates guaranteed benefits, shifts the risk of future health cost increases to individuals, and hands Medicare over to private insurance companies.
Creating a voucher system will increase health care costs for older Americans. This is in part because Medicare’s administrative costs are very small (four to six percent), compared to private insurers which average 12 percent. Further, private insurance companies are not required to provide the full spectrum of Medicare benefits, meaning insurance companies could decide not to cover costly services like chemotherapy.
A closer look at the Ryan Plan reveals its financial toll on Americans of all ages. According to the Center for American Progress, an individual aged 54 will pay on average an additional $59,500 during retirement for health care. And for an individual just under the age of 30 today, they can expect to pay $331,200 in additional health care costs.
I do not support privatizing Medicare, nor do I endorse the voucher concept. Reducing our federal deficit requires tough choices, but gutting one of nation’s greatest programs and passing that cost off to future generations is not the right solution. I am proud of my 20 year record of supporting Medicare and will continue working to find ways provide quality health care for our aging population.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.