Medicare should be cheered, expanded

By Daniel C. Bryant, M.D.
Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Letters, Aug. 9, 2013

On July 30, 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law. As we note that anniversary, it is interesting to compare the health care news of our own day.

For instance, an article in the July 25 Portland Press Herald ("Briefcase: WellPoint stock sets record ahead of health care reform") reports: "Shares of WellPoint Inc. hit an all-time high Wednesday, after the nation's second-largest health insurer trounced second-quarter earnings expectations and detailed how it expects to benefit from the health care overhaul and other growth opportunities over the next few years."

I'm no economist, but it seems to me that if the payer of medical bills is trouncing earnings expectations, then the payer of premiums must be paying for more than health care.

This is of particular note when we read the same day that Anthem, a subsidiary of WellPoint, is entering an exclusive partnership with the nonprofit MaineHealth ("Anthem-MaineHealth network approved -- with conditions"). Is that a strategy to improve health, or to "benefit from growth opportunities"?

There's other news, too: about whether to expand Medicaid coverage to the thousands of Mainers who have no insurance; about postponing the Affordable Care Act's mandate; about the move by some employers to reduce workers' hours so they can avoid providing health insurance.

All very complicated, not to mention distracting from the basic mission of health insurance -- making medical care affordable by spreading its cost.

What a contrast is the Medicare story. Despite the program's problems and the chronic, yet surely resolvable, issue of its funding, it has proved to be far more cost-effective than private health insurance (1 to 5 percent overhead cost versus 12 to 30 percent for private insurers, according to, far more inclusive and certainly more efficient than the stopgap ACA.

Indeed, we should celebrate Medicare's 48th anniversary by resolving to take it to the next level -- Medicare for all.

Dr. Daniel C. Bryant resides in Cape Elizabeth.