Medicare turns 50, and we have much to celebrate

By Theresa Chalich, R.N.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Letters, July 19, 2015

Nicholas Kristof’s commentary “Poverty: Yes, It’s About Personal Responsibility but It’s Also About the Choices We Make as a Society” (July 12 Forum) on the need for collective responsibility was written at an opportune time. This July we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medicare. What an impact this social program has made on improving health and financial stability.

This publicly funded program financed by our employee Medicare taxes has been and is a practical solution to a severe need. Fifty years ago one-half of seniors were without hospital insurance. One in three lived in poverty. Today nearly all seniors and younger people with permanent disabilities have access to affordable health care.

Mr. Kristof wrote about our nation’s blame-the-victim mentality. It is important to know that Medicare addressed our systemic problem of racism by stopping payments to segregated hospitals and by allowing African-American doctors to get hospital admitting privileges. For these doctors, the legacy of discrimination held back their economic growth. Medicare has truly been a collective response.

On July 14 Pittsburgh City Council recognized the 50th anniversary of Medicare and its goals with a proclamation sponsored by Councilman Corey O’Connor.

So, happy birthday, Medicare! May our birthday wish be that we will have Medicare for all!

Theresa Chalich, R.N., resides in Squirrel Hill. She is a member of HealthCare 4 All PA.

PNHP note: The text of the Pittsburgh City Council resolution cited in the letter above is as follows.

Resolution on Medicare's 50th Anniversary

WHEREAS, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Medicare program to provide health care insurance for the elderly with the intent purpose to reduce poverty among seniors and significantly improve the financial security of American families;

WHEREAS, the passage of Medicare led to the rapid desegregation of 99.6% of U.S. hospitals and continues to reduce health disparities related to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and as a result, 55 million seniors and people with disabilities have access to guaranteed health care benefits; and,   

WHEREAS, Medicare is a model of how a publicly financed care program can assure millions of Americans access to medically necessary care while controlling costs, spending only about 2% on administration which is about 6 times less than what commercial insurers spend on overhead; and,

WHEREAS,  Medicare’s guaranteed benefit is a lifeline to millions of Americans. The evolution of the Medicare legislation has been built on President Johnson’s vision to “assure availability and accessibility to the best healthcare to all Americans, regardless of age or geography or economic status.”

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh does hereby recognize and reflect on the critical role that Medicare plays in protecting the health and well-being of millions of families, setting standards for how care is delivered and having the ability to strengthen and improve health care for future generations. The Council of the City of Pittsburgh salutes Medicare on its 50th Anniversary and urges residents to find creative ways to celebrate this monumental Anniversary for our nation.

Passed in Council on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

Bruce A. Kraus
President of Council

Attest: Mary Beth Doheny
City Clerk