Medicare, Medicaid anniversary raises fears, hopes for future

Advocates celebrated Medicare's birthday while calling for universal care

By Christen McCurdy
The Lund Report (Portland, Ore.), Aug. 14, 2013

The end of July marked the 48th anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act which turned Medicare and Medicaid into law.

Now – with talk of Medicare becoming a voucher program, and threats to Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlements – local activists are fighting to protect the program and potentially to expand it.

“What would sum it up is that we would like to see Medicare for all. We'd not only like to see Medicare protected and improved but expanded for the entire population,” said Dr. Camilo Marquez, co-chair of the health committee of Jobs with Justice, which along with several other groups, helped organize a Medicare birthday party last week at the Hollywood Senior Center in Portland, attended by about 50 people.

The event was organized to celebrate and also raise awareness about threats to Medicare and other programs that affect seniors and low-income people – and to push for single-payer healthcare.

“We're in support of all healthcare reform but some reforms are better than others,” Marquez said. “Healthcare should be universal.”

“I'm one of those people over 50 looking for a job right now,” said Lisa Stiller, who also serves on Jobs with Justice's health committee. Stiller has been without health insurance for five and a half years, and is concerned about the limitations of the Affordable Care Act, noting that people who earn too much to qualify for subsidies may end up paying a quarter of their income to cover the cost of monthly premiums.

Marquez said activists feel confident that the single-payer study authorized by the Oregon Legislature earlier this year “will show single payer is the best way to go,” and are optimistic --  despite the expected  hurdles – about getting a single-payer program in place.

Steve Weiss, a board member of United Seniors of Oregon, which also helped organize last week's event, has been in favor of universal healthcare since the early 1960s, when friends came back from visiting England and told him after they got sick overseas, they could get care without having to pay. He thought, “We've got to get this here within 10 years.”

Weiss, who is eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, said he’s concerned about the fate of both programs.

“I have a number of concerns. The Republicans, some months ago, and their proposal still on the table, is to voucherize Medicare. Voucherizing of the program is one more step toward privatization,” Weiss said, noting the institution of Medicare Advantage plans was a first step in that direction, and a successful one at that.

Weiss is actually more concerned about the Medicaid’s future. While the number of providers who accept Medicare patients has increased in recent years, the converse has occurred with Medicaid with the number of providers willing to see Medicaid patients has gone down – which could create a crisis after the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion next January when people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level will qualify in Oregon. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan has proposed funding Medicaid with a block grant program, which could eliminate Medicaid in states with conservative leadership, Weiss said.

“I really don't know what's going to happen here. It's such a pressing problem, we wanted to let folks know about it,” Weiss said. “It's nice to have celebrations like we did, but eternal vigilance is the price of maintaining these programs.”

Christen McCurdy can be reached at