MEDICARE/MEDICAID ANNIVERSARY; Congressional Record Vol. 161, No. 2
(Senate - January 07, 2015)

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[Pages S50-S51]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                     MEDICARE/MEDICAID ANNIVERSARY

  Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, in his first legislative message to the 
89th Congress in 1965, 50 years ago I believe this month, President 
Johnson laid out what would become a key marker in the legislative 
fight for Medicare and Medicaid. Ultimately, the bill was passed in 
July 1965. President Johnson signed it in Independence, MO, I believe 
at the home of former President Truman.
  President Johnson, in his legislative message to the House and Senate 
in 1965 said:

       In this century, medical scientists have done much to 
     improve human health and prolong human life. Yet as these 
     advances come, vital segments of our population are being 
     left behind--behind barriers of age, economics, geography or 
     community resources. Today, the political community is 
     challenged to help all our people surmount these needless 
     barriers to the enjoyment of the promise and reality of 
     better health.

  Fifty years later we have made historic improvements to our health 
care system, thanks in large part to a couple of things: No. 1, medical 
research, funded both by taxpayers and often by drug companies, 
foundations, universities, and others; and No. 2, because of social 
insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
  Before the passage of Medicare--listen to these numbers--30 percent 
of our Nation's seniors lived below the poverty line, only half our 
Nation's seniors--at this time 50 years ago, early in 1965, had health 
insurance, and insurance usually only covered visits to the hospital in 
those days.
  Now, thanks to Medicare, 54 million seniors and people with 
disabilities have access to guaranteed health care benefits.
  Let me share a letter a constituent named Donald, from Toledo, OH, 
wrote to me last Congress, when the House of Representatives threatened 
to turn Medicare into a voucher program as part of its budget proposal. 
Donald wrote:

       Thank you for your efforts to keep Medicare from being 
     privatized. At the age of 63, I am going to be eligible for 
     Medicare before too long and looking at the affordability of 
     health care is critical. If Medicare is privatized, we will 
     not be able to afford it any more than we can afford private 
     insurance today.

  That is the whole point. The reason there is a government health care 
program, the reason there is social insurance, is because people, as in 
1965, only half the people in the country had any kind of health 
insurance.

       It is a little disconcerting to know that after working all 
     our lives and living comfortably, that in our retirement 
     years we will either have to try to find full-time employment 
     to be in a position of affording Medicare, privatized 
     Medicare. I am sure I don't need to tell you how difficult 
     finding a job is these days when you are an older citizen.
       I know normally I am writing you from the opposing side, 
     but this time we definitely see eye to eye.

  Ralph Waldo Emerson, 150 or 160 years ago, said that history has 
always been a fight between conservators and innovators. There is a 
legitimate place in society for both, creating the tension that moves 
our country one way or the other. Conservators want to protect the 
status quo. They want to preserve privilege and want to hold on to 
their wealth. Conservators fundamentally don't believe the government 
should be involved in ensuring a decent standard of living. 
Innovators--what we might call today progressives--understand our 
society is only as strong as its most vulnerable members.
  If we go back to the key congressional votes--the key congressional 
votes, not necessarily final passage--to advance debate of a Medicare 
bill in 1965, most Republicans voted no. Then it was the John Birch 
Society that opposed it. Today, 50 years later, it is the tea party 
that opposes social insurance.
  Some of the most privileged interest groups in Washington opposed the 
creation of Medicare. But they were wrong. As I said earlier, 30 
percent of seniors lived below the poverty line prior to Medicare. 
Medicare helped to cut the poverty rate in half by 1973, only 8 years 
after its passage.
  We see the same attacks today. Budgets proposed in the House of 
Representatives over the past several years have tried to dismantle 
Medicare, by and large by privatized vouchers, to help offset the cost 
of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. They would privatize the 
program and undermine its guaranteed benefits.
  Ohio's seniors have worked hard, they have paid into Medicare, and 
they deserve a program that truly meets their health care needs. They 
deserve better than the underfunded voucher that would put them at the 
mercy of the private insurance industry. Thankfully, we have been able 
to block this plan in the Senate. We will continue to do that.
  Interestingly, the Affordable Care Act has provided significantly 
enhanced benefits for Medicare beneficiaries. In my State alone more 
than 1 million Ohio seniors have gotten free--meaning no copay, no 
deductible--preventive care benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
  If you are on Medicare and your doctor prescribes an annual physical 
or asks that you be given an osteoporosis screening, a diabetes 
screening--all the things doctors order for their patients for 
preventive care--those are provided under the Affordable Care Act and 
under Medicare, no copays, no deductible.
  Many of the efforts to privatize and voucherize Medicare mean taking 
away preventive care, taking away prescription drug protections added 
to Medicare under the Affordable Care Act. Others want to raise the 
Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.
  I was in Youngstown, OH, a couple of years ago at a townhall. A woman 
stood up and said: I hold two jobs, and I am barely making it.
  I think the two jobs were close to minimum wage, so she was probably 
making $8 an hour in one and $8.50 in the other. She was a home care 
worker and doing something else. She had tears in her eyes.
  She said: I am 63 years old. I need to stay alive until I can get 
health insurance.
  This was maybe 5 years before we passed the health care law. Imagine 
being 63 years old and your goal in life is just to find a way to stay 
alive so you can have health insurance.
  Some geniuses in the House and maybe in the Senate think it is a good 
idea to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. Just because 
we dress like this and have jobs that aren't all that physical other 
than walking back and forth from our offices to the floor, just because 
we have this kind of lifestyle and just because we are privileged 
enough to get to dress like this and get paid well and get to do these 
incredibly privileged jobs as Members of the Senate--there are a whole 
lot of people in this country whose bodies won't last until they are 
67. They can't work until they are 67 to get Medicare. They are working 
at Walmart, standing on floors all day, they are home care workers, 
they are working at fast food restaurants, they are construction 
workers.
  Both my wife's parents died before the age of 70 in large part 
because of the work they did, the kind of heavy, strenuous work, and 
the chemicals they were exposed to and all that. So when I hear my 
colleagues propose to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 
67--and I know they say we can't sustain these entitlements, whatever 
that means. What they really want to do is raise the eligibility age. 
To raise the eligibility age for Medicare to 67, they need to take 
Abraham Lincoln's advice. His staff wanted him to stay in the White 
House and win the war, free the slaves, and preserve the Union. 
President Lincoln said: No. I need to go out and get my public opinion 
bath.
  What did he mean by that? He meant: I have to go out and talk to 
people. So when I hear Senators say they want to raise the Medicare 
eligibility age from 65 to 67--whether they are in Gallipolis or Troy 
or Zanesville, OH--when I hear people say they want to raise the 
retirement age or the Medicare eligibility age--what I think when I 
hear Senators say that is they are not out talking to real people.
  We know we can do a number of things to improve and strengthen these 
programs so future generations can continue to move into retirement 
years with a sense of security.
  Last Congress I was an original cosponsor of the Medicare Protection

[[Page S51]]

Act, which would make it difficult for Congress to make changes that 
would reduce or eliminate guaranteed benefits or restrict eligibility 
criteria for Medicare beneficiaries. With several of my Senate 
colleagues, I will submit a resolution commemorating the 50th 
anniversary of the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, a reminder that 
these programs must be protected, not weakened, not rolled back, not 
undercut, not privatized, not voucherized--if that is a word--a 
reminder that all these programs must be strengthened.
  As we move forward in protecting social insurance, we should remember 
President Johnson's words when speaking to the House and the Senate 50 
years ago: Whatever we aspire to do together, our success in those 
enterprises--and our enjoyment of the fruits that result--will rest 
finally upon the health of our people.

                          ____________________