45 years later, Medicare still worth fighting for

This week marks the 45th anniversary of one of the most successful programs ever created in this country. Medicare is an important program that provides guaranteed, affordable health care for 39 million of our nation’s seniors, including 110,000 seniors in western Wisconsin.

Not only did Democrats create the Medicare program, but throughout the past four decades, they have fought vigorously to protect, preserve and strengthen these important secured benefits for our nation’s seniors for years to come.

Before Medicare, only 51 percent of Americans 65 and older had health care coverage and nearly 30 percent lived below the poverty line. Today, thanks to Medicare, things are drastically different. Nearly all seniors have coverage and 75 percent fewer struggle in poverty. I promise to do everything I can to protect and preserve Medicare for today’s seniors and also for future generations.

As important as this program is to our seniors and our country, my colleagues across the aisle have continually tried to damage it. They spent more than a decade attempting to ensure Medicare was never enacted. And in the 1990s they tried to massively defund the program.

Now, they are one again attempting to end Medicare. Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan would do away with traditional Medicare for everyone younger than 55 and replace it with a voucher program — forcing seniors to find health care for themselves, under private health care plans, re-opening the prescription drug doughnut hole and doubling out of pocket health expenses.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office states that the GOP plan would cause seniors to “bear a much larger share of their health care costs than they would under the traditional program” and would increase the typical senior’s out-of-pocket costs by more than $6000. I reject this approach.

Just as Medicare has been kept secure for the last 45 years, it can be kept secure for years to come. The Affordable Care Act works to improve our health care delivery system so that all health care, including guaranteed Medicare benefits, are more integrated, coordinated, and patient-focused.

To reduce health care costs, we don’t need to make dramatic cuts to Medicare that destroy the program as we know it; we need to reform our health care system to pay for the value of care given and not the volume of care. This is how health care providers in Wisconsin are providing better care at a better price. And this is how we can increase efficiency and ensure affordable health care coverage for years to come.