45 Years of Fighting For Medicare

Posted on by Karina

In every Congress between 1952 and 1965, Medicare was introduced by Congressional Democrats. Republicans spent those same 13 years attempting to ensure Medicare was never enacted.

In November 1964, President Lyndon Johnson won a landslide re-election victory, promising during his campaign that Medicare would finally be enacted. As Congress convened in January 1965, Medicare finally seemed like a reality but in a last desperate attempt to kill Medicare, Republicans came up with an “alternative” to create a voluntary health insurance program for the elderly, with no guaranteed funding and no guaranteed benefits. While 93% of House Republicans voted in favor of the Republican “alternative,” some House Republicans – apparently out of fear of the wrath of their constituents – turned around, after voting aye on the Republican substitute, and voted in favor of the final conference report on Medicare. Accepting the inevitability of passage, 51% of House Republicans ended up voting aye on the conference report but these last-minute vote switches do not hide the determined resistance of congressional Republicans to the creation of the Medicare program over the course of the prior 13 years.

Typical GOP comments about what the creation of Medicare would mean during the 1965 debate include many of the same sentiments we have heard in more recent health care debates:

“We cannot stand idly by now, as the nation is urged to embark on an ill-conceived adventure in government medicine.” Rep. Durward Hall (R-MO)

“We are going on the assumption that this is not socialized medicine. Let me tell you here and now it is socialized medicine.” Rep. James Utt (R-CA)

“May I state that this bill is a sugar-coated pill that is being swallowed in an easy fashion, but its ill effects will be felt in the ultimate crippling of our medical services.” Rep. Edward Derwinski (R-IL)

“Believing as I do that Medicare is the first step towards socialized medicine in America, I intend to vote NO on final passage.” Rep. Delbert Latta (R-OH)

While President Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30th, 1965, the program was launched 45 years ago today–July 1st, 1966:

Medicare Press Conference 1966

Medicare has had a profound impact on the health and well being of American seniors:

Before Medicare: In 1964, only 51 percent of Americans 65 and older had health care coverage.
After Medicare: Today, virtually all Americans 65 and older have health care coverage.

Before Medicare: In 1964, nearly 30 percent of seniors lived below the poverty line.
After Medicare: Today, 8.9 percent of seniors live below the poverty line.

Before Medicare: In 1964, life expectancy for Americans was 70.2 years old.
After Medicare: Today, life expectancy for Americans is 78.2 years old.

Today, Medicare provides comprehensive and affordable health care coverage to 47 million Americans, including 39 million seniors and 8 million under age 65 with disabilities. But this year, that coverage is under attack. House Republicans have voted not once, but twice, to end Medicare–cutting benefits and increasing costs for seniors, to give tax breaks to special interests, Big Oil, and corporations that ship jobs overseas.

This isn’t the first time they’ve tried this.

In 1995, when they won control of Congress, Republicans launched a year-long effort to cut Medicare by $270 billion over 7 years–including cuts harmful to seniors such as increased out-of-pocket costs–in order to give $245 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy. The Republican legislation would have cut Medicare 20% by the year 2002 and doubled the Medicare premiums that seniors pay each month over seven years. President Clinton vetoed the bill:

Medicare Votes 1995

In 1996, despite the fact that President Clinton had vetoed their bill to cut Medicare in the previous year, Congressional Republicans decided to try again. This time, they wrote a plan to cut Medicare by $168 billion over 6 years–including cuts harmful to seniors such as increased out-of-pocket costs–in order to give $122 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy:

Medicare Votes 1996

Sound familiar? This year, Republicans are not only trying to cut Medicare to give tax cuts, but they’re also trying to end Medicare completely and instead give seniors vouchers to go out and buy private insurance. For all Americans under 55, the Republican bill:

Increases out-of-pocket health care costs for the typical senior by more than $6,000 a year

Requires seniors, by 2030, to be paying 68% of their health care costs, with the voucher covering only 32%

Puts seniors at the mercy of private insurance companies

No longer guarantees seniors the same level of benefits and choice of doctor they have today under Medicare

The Republican bill also cuts benefits for current Medicare beneficiaries by re-opening the prescription drug donut hole–costing an estimated 4 million seniors up to $44 billion by 2020–and increasing the costs of annual wellness visits and other preventive services for millions of seniors.

Just as we have for 45 years, House Democrats will fight vigorously to protect and strengthen Medicare. House Democrats firmly believe that, just as Medicare has been kept solvent for the last 45 years, it can be kept solvent for the next 45 years. The Affordable Care Act signed into law last year, added eight additional years to Medicare’s solvency without cutting benefits and Democrats will continue to act, as they have always done, to ensure Medicare’s solvency into the future. As Leader Pelosi said:

We will uphold our responsibility to seniors today and to future generations: to strengthen, preserve, and protect Medicare; to ensure that it continues to serve as a source of stability and health for all Americans.

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