By Assemblymember Tony Thurmond
Since the Medicare and Medicaid program’s simultaneous signage into law by President Johnson 50 years ago, over 48 million Americans now have access to health care.
The ethos of these landmark programs is stated in no less than the words used by President Lyndon Johnson: “Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection.”
Yet at this time, Medicare has come under attack. Any reduction in services would force older Americans to pay more out-of-pocket costs for health care premiums.
These shortsighted attempts overlook the savings that Medicare provides, such as preventative services which keeps beneficiaries from needing more costly health services.
Rather than proposing to dismantle a program with proven benefits to all, especially the elderly, detractors should help secure the program and its funding for generations to come.
As we celebrate the anniversary of Medicare, we should recognize that as health care costs increase, even those served by Medicare often do not have enough to pay all of their health care costs.
A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 20 percent of those on Medicare reduced their use of dental, vision, and hearing services because they simply could not afford them.
Compounding the high cost of living for seniors in California were cuts to the State Supplemental Payment (SSP)—which compliments Medicare by augmenting the often insufficient Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—that provides income support for the elderly, disabled, and blind.
I authored AB 474, with Assemblymember Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino), following a series of hearings I chaired for the California Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.
The concerns expressed by seniors and advocates were unequivocal; SSI/SSP is their only form of income and often force a choice between paying rent and attending to medical needs. AB 474, which aims to restore SSI/SSP to 2009 levels and provide an additional $233 per month to surpass the federal poverty line, has yet to become law.
The increasing cost of care for seniors also exacerbates broader inequities in our health care delivery system.
In my district in the East Bay, a recent study found that a child born today in a flatland neighborhood will have a life span that is 14 years shorter than a child born in the hills.
There are a variety of factors that account for this unacceptable difference; but making sure that access to quality, affordable health care is available to all – regardless of the neighborhood in which they live – must be our highest priority. That’s just one of the reasons I fought so hard to keep Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo open and why I am fighting now to provide alternatives for care to area residents.
Medicare provides us with a great example of what a national health care plan for all Americans should look like: broad coverage, healthier outcomes, and savings through preventive care.
We should protect and preserve Medicare. Following the program’s 50th anniversary, we must examine how we can further continue the path that Medicare and Medicaid have set for our nation and state.
If we do not walk that path, too many seniors will have to choose between their health and their rent. To echo President Johnson, the time has now arrived for action to help further the opportunities and protection in health care.
Tony Thurmond is the District 15 member of the California State Assembly.