Forty-nine years ago, in 1965, Medicare was created to provide health insurance coverage for American workers 65 years or older – giving them, for the first time, guaranteed medical benefits.
Before Medicare, one-third of seniors lived in poverty – unable to afford basic medical care in old age. Roughly half of our Nation’s seniors did not have health insurance, and, those who did, had coverage only when they were admitted to a hospital.
Today, Medicare covers seniors for inpatient hospital services, as well as for post-hospital care at skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation clinics, and also for hospice and home health services.
It provides insurance for doctor visits and laboratory tests and ambulance services. It covers medical equipment like wheelchairs, prosthetics, pacemakers, and glucose monitors.
With my support, Medicare now covers preventive care services, such as screening tests for heart disease and cancer.
With my support, Medicare now provides for outpatient prescription drug coverage. Currently, that coverage is being expanded, eliminating the so-called donut hole and reducing out-of-pocket costs for seniors – again, because of legislation that I supported.
Seniors are no longer left to fend for themselves – not anymore. If workers paid into the Medicare system, they are covered. If they get sick, they are covered.
Seniors have a moral claim on the benefits they have earned over a lifetime of work and payroll taxes. We cannot play political games with that moral commitment.
I am fighting hard to honor those obligations and preserve seniors’ access to care. I have consistently voted to protect Medicare – both to ensure that patients receive the benefits they are entitled to and that doctors and hospitals are properly reimbursed for the care they provide their patients.
I have strenuously opposed cuts in Medicare benefits and stood firmly against efforts to privatize and replace traditional Medicare with a voucher system.
I have voted repeatedly against legislation, put forward and passed by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, that would restructure Medicare into a voucher program – a terrible and cruel proposal that would gradually eliminate guaranteed benefits promised under traditional Medicare. Such a proposal would force seniors to pay more for less health coverage.
In addition, I recently joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers urging the Obama Administration to forgo proposed reductions in payments for Medicare Advantage plans.
I also am actively opposing cuts in payments to our physicians and health care facilities that rely on equitable reimbursements to keep their doors open. Most recently, I cosponsored and voted in favor of legislation to permanently repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) used to determine Medicare payment rates for physicians.
Because of legislation that I supported, the fiscal solvency of the Medicare trust fund has been strengthened, and there has been no increase in the Medicare Part B premium for this year.
Medicare is crucial to helping ensure that seniors, especially those on fixed incomes, have access to quality and affordable medical care, and can retire and live in dignity.
That commitment, by the way, ought to extend to all West Virginians – ensuring that access to quality care is not guaranteed only to the wealthiest among us.
That commitment ought to extend to all workers through the Social Security system as well – ensuring that all workers in their senior years have a safety net.
I am adamant in opposing budget cuts that would weaken Medicare, undercut access to health services for West Virginia seniors, and negatively affect the work of the dedicated health professionals who care for seniors in our State.
Our responsibility to protect the Medicare is a moral one, and something that I will never turn away from.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District. For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at (202) 225-3452, or visit http://rahall.house.gov.