Time to save Medicare from extinction

By Richard Propp, M.D.
Times Union (Albany, N.Y.), July 30, 2012

One doesn't hear that much about Medicare's amazing 47-year record of paying for the care of seniors and disabled people. We are concentrating more on learning and arguing about the benefits and problems with the current health care reform of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

We are confronted, too, with early analyses of the effect of the Supreme Court's ruling that states have flexibility on the proposed Medicaid expansion that will affect millions of uninsured.

But wait; what is happening with Medicare reform?

This must be prefaced by the writer Peter Heinegg's dictum: "Culture, when left to its own devices, constantly lies."

Conservative legislators proclaim loudly that they want to save Medicare by voucherizing it. They would make it into a defined contribution program, thus leaving the elderly and disabled liable for higher out-of-pocket expenses. I believe that this would, for all intents and purposes, destroy Medicare as we know it. Medicare needs constant improving, and parts of the Affordable Care Act aim at that.

We get so busy with our lives, so distracted by entertainments and so lazy from denial, that the things we take for granted are up for grabs. We forget that there are misguided people who by word or deed will take away our fundamental rights, rights that were won in decades of struggle.

I am a senior, and twice a week I eat dinner with seniors. I see that eventually we all become seniors or disabled. This is the time of the year that we should thank President Lyndon Johnson and his staff and Congress, who enacted Medicare on July 30, 1965, and implemented it in 1966. If seniors, the disabled and their families stand up and fight for Medicare as we know it, we shall have it for many years more.

And perhaps, if Americans study health care and think about what kind of country we want, we will one day have improved Medicare for all. Happy Birthday, Medicare!

Richard Propp is a retired physician and chairman of the Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare.