(Editor’s note: The following op-ed ran in the Huffington Post on Aug. 21.)
By John D. Dingell
Medicare is dominating the national dialogue, and some historical perspective as well as truth telling seems appropriate. Medicare was signed into law in 1965 with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Because my father was one of the original sponsors and a champion of Social Security as well as the original author of Medicare, which I continued to champion until it became the law, Speaker John W. McCormack allowed me the honor of presiding over the passage of this vital legislation.
Medicare is enormously successful. Prior to its enactment, approximately half of those over 65 did not have health insurance and far too many seniors were denied coverage or had their health care terminated simply because of their age. Medicare assured anyone over 65 they could see a doctor if they were sick.
Fast forward to 2011, when U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) became chairman of the House Budget Committee and he authored a draconian proposal that would gut programs that millions of hardworking Americans count on. Make no mistake, the Ryan budget ends Medicare as we know it.
This is not hyperbole — it is fact. Medicare would cease to be a single payer fee for service medical insurance program; instead, each senior would have to go fend for themselves on the open insurance market. Ryan would turn the program into a voucher system, with constantly shrinking benefits that would lead to an increase in senior healthcare costs by nearly $6,500 a year. Moreover, his plan would privatize Social Security, turning it into a Wall Street crapshoot.
The Romney-Ryan team are also very clear that repealing the Affordable Care Act is priority No. 1. Now, I had the honor of presiding over the passage of the ACA two years ago. Like Medicare when it was passed, this legislation will go a long way toward providing quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans, not just those lucky enough to get coverage from their employer, or privileged with enough means to purchase their own. But unlike Medicare, the Republican Party refused to work toward a consensus package, and has vowed to repeal the ACA if Mitt Romney wins the presidency.
The Affordable Care Act ensures that 105 million Americans no longer have a lifetime limit on their health insurance, kids can stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26, and millions of Americans will no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. It also expanded prescription drug benefits under Medicare Part D, as well as covering preventative care for seniors that wasn’t entirely paid for. Those who argue that Romney and Ryan would leave current seniors and their benefits untouched ignore these simple facts.
Ironically, Republicans say they want to repeal this legislation because it cuts Medicare. Now, I am the first to admit there is waste and fraud in Medicare — a prime example is the excessive amounts Medicare was paying to insurance companies which offer Medicare Advantage plans.
As an author of the Affordable Care Act, we got rid of this waste and used these carefully targeted savings to actually invest in our healthcare system, most notably to fill the prescription drug gap seniors face under Medicare Part D.
In addition, the ACA also sets aside Medicare savings to give hardworking American families and children access to Medicaid or tax credits to purchase private insurance. The Romney-Ryan Plan simply hands that money right over to the richest Americans at the expense of the middle class in this country.
This debate isn’t about a war of words and empty rhetoric between politicians of different parties. I remember the difficulty aging Americans had not only paying for health care, but even qualifying for it. Now, all Americans can count on health care security in retirement.
We must stand up for that guarantee. It is about our promise to the American people that if they worked hard and played but the rules, they would have access to secure and healthy future.