By Congresswoman Joyce Beatty
On July 30th, our country marked Medicare and Medicaid’s 52nd birthday—enacted as Title XVIII and Title XIX of the Social Security Act, and signed into law as part of Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 War on Poverty. For the very first time in our country, all Americans aged 65 or older were assured hospital, post-hospital extended care, and home health coverage, while states gained the option of receiving federal funding to provide health care services to low income children, their caretaker relatives, the blind, and individuals with disabilities.
Over the decades, Republicans joined with Democrats on a number of bipartisan proposals to make the programs stronger, more responsive, and expanded them to include more vulnerable Americans. The history of these successful programs should serve as a roadmap for the current 115th Congress and its consideration of healthcare in this country.
Birthdays are celebrations, a time to reflect on the past and look to the future. Yet, for Medicare and Medicaid, this year is anything but a celebration. That’s because these two programs—which provide healthcare coverage to over 125 million American seniors, working families, men, women and children—are facing hundreds of billions of dollars in heartless and senseless funding cuts, on top of a dramatic reshuffling in structure that threatens the very existence of the two revered programs.
Under the Congressional Republicans’ proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the American Health Care Act (AHCA), also known as “Trumpcare,” over 50 million seniors on Medicare and at least 70 million more Americans on Medicaid—including 30 million children, 20 million hardworking Americans struggling to simply make ends meet, 10 million people with disabilities and another 10 million vulnerable seniors—may lose access to the medical care they need. This means pregnant women lacking pre- and post-natal care, children unable to see their doctor, and countless seniors and Americans with disabilities unable to afford their prescriptions or the needed support services to live independently. Trumpcare would also end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, a move that would hurt nearly one million Ohioans, and take away healthcare coverage from at least 22 million newly-insured Americans. Even worse, Trumpcare jeopardizes coverage for 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions including 10 million people with disabilities on Medicaid and imposes an age tax that would force older Americans to pay at least five times as much for their health insurance as younger people regardless of their health status.
That is why Democrats are fighting Congressional Republicans’ dizzying attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and ram through Trumpcare and its dangerous $750 billion cut to Medicaid. These cuts would devastate our social compact with those who can least afford it by gutting the program that one in three seniors will eventually need for long-term health-related services.
Today in America, 42 million people live in households with incomes below the poverty line—over 14 million are children, 10 million are working adults and some 4 million are people with disabilities. These statistics demand action, and Democrats are answering the call.
Democrats are very clear in our message and response: “Better Wages, Better Jobs, and a Better Future” and “A Better Deal for all Americans.” Congress can help make this happen by passing the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, H.R. 676. Introduced by the Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressman John Conyers (MI-13), H.R. 676 would expand Medicare, guaranteeing that every American—no matter where they live or what they earn—can visit the doctor, go to the emergency room, purchase their prescriptions, and access long-term care and mental health.
The CBC, also known as the “Conscience of Congress,” is fighting alongside our Democratic colleagues to standup for these hardworking Americans to ensure their fears, including those of three million Ohioans on Medicaid, do not become reality. That people are not making untenable choices about whether to eat, go to the doctor or fill a prescription.
Our effort to beat back Trumpcare—working with countless men, women and children from across the country and political spectrum—is still ongoing. That is why, to borrow a line from the CBC, we must “Stay Woke.” We cannot rest nor stay silent until every American family, senior, child, person with disabilities, and adult has the healthcare they need and deserve.
The ACA was an important first step, but no one has ever claimed that it is the end-all when it comes to the healthcare debate in this country. However, the false and misleading claims we hear from Republicans do nothing to advance a sensible debate. Instead of continuing to sow seeds of uncertainty and cut funding from Medicare and Medicaid—all to pay for a huge tax cut for the 400 wealthiest families in America—Republicans need to abandon their obsession with repealing the ACA and finally get serious about working with Democrats to improve and strengthen the healthcare marketplace.
In so doing, we can ensure that Medicare and Medicaid will continue to have very happy birthdays. A reality millions of Americans would celebrate.
Happy Birthday Medicare and Medicaid!
Congresswoman Joyce Beatty is a native Ohioan with a strong history of connecting people, policy and politics to make a difference. Since 2013, she has proudly represented Ohio’s Third Congressional District.