Happy 48th birthday, Medicare

As I reflect on my 48 years in Congress, at the positive policies created and those that have had not so positive effects, the enactment of Medicare is a bold highlight.

I voted for its original passage out of the House during my first summer as a congressman, during a time that was very different from the America of today. Prior to Medicare’s creation, only half of older adults had health insurance, with coverage often unavailable or unaffordable to the other half because of limited incomes and policies that cost nearly three times as much for the elderly than the young.

Medicare’s positive impact was more than just extending medical coverage to more than 19 million elderly citizens in its first year. A significant requirement of its implementation was provider compliance with Title VI of the then recently passed Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Almost overnight, this requirement effectively brought an end to segregation in hospitals.

Less than a decade after its creation, Medicare underwent a notable expansion in coverage, when eligibility expanded to include disabled persons receiving cash benefits under the Social Security disability program and persons with end-stage renal disease. Nearly a half century later, Medicare serves 50 million elderly Americans annually. The majority of these individuals would otherwise very likely have no health insurance.

Medicare’s coverage and benefits have extended countless years of qualify life to those receiving its medical care. I am encouraged to see that awareness of these results has brought action to reform the healthcare system and further expand coverage to more Americans. With the passage and upcoming implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an additional 30 million Americans currently uninsured will be able to access medical care at a reasonable price. While I fully support the progress the reform law is bringing, I believe there is more we can do to ensure medical access for every American.

I believe Medicare For All is the answer, which is why I have introduced and advocated for since 2003 a publicly funded, privately distributed insurance program, H.R. 676. Even with the expansion of access that ACA will provide, there will still be those who fall through the gaps or who struggle to pay for the costs of medical care. This would not be the case under a single-payer program like H.R. 676.

Each year, Medicare’s birthday creates a wonderful opportunity to come together and work in a constructive way advocating for transitioning our for-profit and costly healthcare system to a high-quality, simple and cost-effective Medicare For All program.
Americans are frustrated with exorbitant and rising healthcare costs, and many have a deep mistrust of private health insurance companies. The for-profit medicine model has resulted in rationed care and created undue stress and financial hardships for millions of Americans across the nation. Americans are smart — they know improved public health insurance works in other countries. They also know that our own Medicare program, although not perfect, is a proven and efficient method for providing healthcare to America’s seniors.

As we celebrate Medicare’s birthday today, it is suitable to pause and remember the signing of the Medicare Act, which took place at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., on this day, 48 years ago, and what Lyndon Johnson said: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”

By enacting H.R. 676, this could be the reality for every single American.

Conyers has represented Michigan in the House of Representatives since 1965. He is ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.