For 46 years, the Medicare program has provided essential health care coverage – and with it, economic security – to tens of millions of older adults. For millions of families with an older person who is sick, Medicare has been the difference between getting treatment or going without, and between paying the bills or falling into poverty.
In many ways, the Medicare program has redefined aging in America. Before it, roughly half of older adults in our nation had no health care coverage. Today, nearly all seniors are covered by Medicare, and they rely on it to cover essential health services including doctor and hospital care and prescription drugs.
Health reform, the Affordable Care Act, has strengthened Medicare. It means no more cost-sharing for Medicare preventive services including screenings for colon, prostate and breast cancer, for an annual wellness exam, or for immunizations.
But while there is broad consensus that Medicare is an unqualified success, on its 46th anniversary, the program’s future has never been in more jeopardy. To reduce the federal debt, lawmakers are threatening deep cuts to both Medicare and Medicaid, which are lifelines for tens of millions of seniors. Medicare covers more than 45 million people, providing health coverage that many of them would otherwise go without.
Seniors have spent decades paying into Medicare, and they should be able to count on the coverage they need when they reach retirement. Medicare is especially important to vulnerable older patients with multiple chronic conditions, whose care is complex and often expensive.
The NC Campaign for Better Care is working to protect and preserve Medicare. We want to reduce costs by improving the quality and coordination of care for our oldest and sickest patients. We know that the better way is to reduce costs by improving care coordination and providing home-and community-based services that reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions – by reducing the appalling number of patients who get infections in hospitals – and by paying only for high-quality care that makes patients better.
That’s a better way than making deep cuts to this essential program.