Press Release             

Contact: Nathan Heggem
Senior Communications and
Policy Associate

July 29, 2011

Statement by Medicare Rights Center President Joe Baker on the
46th Anniversary of the Enactment of Medicare

New York, NY – Medicare turns 46 on Saturday, a cause for celebration despite these uncertain times. Many of us do not remember a world without Medicare, but one year before Medicare was signed into law, nearly half of older Americans did not have health insurance, and only one-quarter were estimated to have adequate hospital insurance coverage. The program was expanded in 1973 to cover people with disabilities, another population in dire need of care and coverage. This essential program has given millions of Americans retirement and financial security, improving their quality of life and ensuring their continued health and safety.
If we must forge a way forward in the context of deficit reduction, we need to be sure that, in order to prevent catastrophic cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, we adopt a balanced approach that includes increased revenues. The promise of Medicare is to provide access to affordable, high-quality health care for a population that has high health care needs but lives on limited incomes; half of people with Medicare have annual incomes of $22,000 or less per year. Proposals that would increase the eligibility age, restructure the benefit, increase cost-sharing and decrease coverage through Medigap would result in increased costs for beneficiaries and decreased access. These proposals may seem to reduce costs to the federal government, but they do so at a price that undermines the purpose and spirit of the program. 

Most importantly, we must remember that growing costs in Medicare are a symptom of a larger problem: growing costs in the health care sector overall. Fortunately, delivery system reforms included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other proposals—like the Medicare Drug Savings Act, which allows for drug rebates under Medicare—address this problem without penalizing beneficiaries. Medicare can be improved, but it should be improved with the end goal of improving the experience of the population it serves, not just of saving money.

Every year at the Medicare Rights Center, we are fortunate enough to work with thousands of people with Medicare and their caregivers who share their lives with us. Some of their stories are tragic, some are frustrating, but all are inspirational, and together they demonstrate the necessity of Medicare and drive us to work to improve and preserve the program for current and future generations.

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Medicare Rights Center is a national, nonprofit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities through counseling and advocacy, educational programs, and public policy initiatives.


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