WASHINGTON, MA .— "Keep your government hands off my Medicare." That was the heated plea by a man at a town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Robert Inglis, Republican of South Carolina, in 2009. At the time, many of us were amused by news reports about that comment. Doesn't the guy realize that Medicare is a government program?
Fervent defense of Medicare by that conservative constituent reflects the popularity of the program across the political spectrum. It is widely considered to be one of the most successful, effective and efficient government programs. As a senior (and a progressive I might add), I've been on Medicare for over 10 years, and am very satisfied with the service I've received.
But now certain people in the government do want to put their hands on Medicare: Senators and representatives running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. They see Medicare as an expedient path toward universal health care by expanding the program to serve everyone, under the slogan "Medicare-for-all." It's part of the so-called Green New Deal co-sponsored by newly-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and veteran Sen . Ed Markey, best known for his energy expertise.
Hardly a day goes by, it seems, when another Democrat jumps into the race and is quick to endorse Medicare-for-all. It's a catchy slogan and a superficially attractive idea. But it's a bad idea. Seniors need to pay attention before a service we vitally depend on, literally as a matter of life and death, is undermined by a tidal wave of political expediency.
With the U.S. population at 325 million (as of 2016), Medicare served about 53 million of us. That leaves about 272 million people under 65 potentially to be covered by Medicare-for-all. Doing so would increase the number of Medicare patients five-fold. There will surely be unintended consequences of scaling it up so drastically, and Medicare will certainly become less efficient and more bureaucratic.
As seniors we paid into the Medicare trust fund all our working lives. When younger people opt to enroll in Medicare-for-all, where will the money come from to provide them coverage? This will inevitably entangle the finances of Medicare with funding for the expanded program, and political machinations over money. The Green New Deal and some candidates would completely ban private health insurance, denying seniors access to supplemental coverage policies and Medicare Advantage plans.
Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly support universal health care. I believe it's a travesty that people are left out in the cold with inadequate or no coverage, that pre-existing conditions could disqualify you from the care you need. Health care is and should be a basic human right in the United States, as it is in so many other advanced nations.
But I disagree that Medicare-for-all is the way to achieve universal care. The needs and interests of seniors are being ignored by an ill-considered proposal to provide coverage to the rest of the population. Medicare should be preserved as the successful program that it is, dedicated solely to serving seniors.
Progressive Democratic candidates need to rethink their position on Medicare-for-all. As a progressive, I've been leaning to supporting my home state senator, Elizabeth Warren. Someone would have to persuade me not to support her. And now someone has: Elizabeth herself. She too has jumped on the Medicare-for-all bandwagon. As a former Harvard Law student, I guess I expected a more thoughtful approach to health care from a former Harvard Law professor. I call on her to re-examine the issue.
I'm not here to endorse any candidate, but I will point out that one of the lesser-known declared entrants in the 2020 race, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, has called for keeping Medicare as a distinct program. Delaney is a former health care financier, and supports a separate program to serve all Americans under 65.
So do I. And if you're a senior, so should you. If there are candidates you're leaning toward in the presidential race, contact them and let them know that as a senior, you're opposed to expanding Medicare. Contact your representative and senators as well. We seniors are a powerful voting bloc, and our message to politicians should be: "Keep your government hands off my Medicare."
Steve Nelson is an occasional Eagle contributor.