Celebrate Medicare, and work for Medicare for all

By Laurel Mark, M.D.
The Capital Times (Madison, Wis.), Letters, July 29, 2015

This week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Medicare, landmark legislation that provided meaningful health insurance for the first time to our nation's seniors. On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill in Independence, Missouri, with President Harry Truman at his side. Truman fought hard for national health insurance but was unable to pass it. It was fitting that he and his wife Bess became the first two Medicare recipients.

From a modest start, Medicare evolved into a massively influential program, transforming health care in the U.S. and much more: It changed how medical care is financed and delivered, lifted generations of seniors out of poverty, helped improve life expectancy, desegregated hospitals, and plays a crucial role in financing medical education. Beneficiaries consistently rate it highly. Over 90 percent of outpatient physicians and virtually 100 percent of hospitals participate.

Medicare is a federal health insurance program for those over 65 years, certain disabled folks and those with kidney failure. After paying in during their working years, seniors benefit from a frugal, well-run program (1.6 percent administrative costs vs. 15-30 percent for private plans), with a transparent, uniform set of benefits, and real choice of doctors and hospitals.

It's not perfect, but the problems can be remedied. Physicians for a National Health Program supports universal health care through a single-payer system. “Improved Medicare for all” is the best mechanism to move forward. Let's take the opportunity to celebrate this milestone.

PNHP will host a celebration at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, at First Unitarian Society. All are welcome.

Dr. Laurel Mark of Madison is a member of the steering committee of the Linda and Gene Farley chapter of Wisconsin's Physician for a National Health Program.