OWL logoWith today being the 50th birthday of Medicare and Medicaid we thought it was appropriate to throwback to a post we ran two years ago. Do you think the sentiments and concerns around the programs are the same today?

It’s July 30, 2013. You are 48 years old, and if YOU TWO don’t have a Happy Birthday, who will? We will all suspect something is wrong. Maybe you haven’t been getting enough sleep, or maybe you are not eating right. The Congress isn’t treating you badly, is it? Maybe, too, you are both very proud of your lives, as you work your way through middle age; or maybe you are a little disappointed in your accomplishments.

Maybe you could have done more, and aren’t thinking right now about all of your millions of friends and supporters, let alone the nearly 1.5 million people who consider Medicaid and Medicare nothing less than lifelines to participation in the game of life, no matter how many years go by.

Medicaid, at just 48 years old, you are the nation’s primary health insurance program and the largest source of financing for services for people with disabilities in the United States. For low-income individuals and families, you have made it work: a federal-state partnership to provide a secure health care safety net that is a proven agent of stronger families and communities across our country.

Medicare, you are the promise our country has made to older Americans that they will have the medical care they need to live healthier lives, far into old age.  This promise is the acknowledgement that after contributing their life’s work to our nation’s well-being, older Americans deserve to be able to live out their years with the security and peace of mind that comes with having affordable health insurance. Medicare, you have succeeded.

And at the peak of your lives, you are still growing and contributing. Because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare, you are seeing to it that 32.5 million seniors and people with disabilities are able to take advantage of free preventive services, such as mammograms or cardiovascular disease screening. Additionally, more than 5.2 million people who receive Medicare benefits have saved more than $3.9 billion on their medications in the past three years through savings mandated by the ACA.

We celebrate your success, Medicare and Medicaid. We are pleased with the way you have grown over the years in service and sophistication, and the way you have stretched your spheres of caring and helping people. Yet, we are worried. We are afraid The Congress is indeed treating you badly.

They are embroiled, as we speak, in efforts that can severely undermine Medicare.  They call it “reform.” Medicare, even though the data confirm you as an extremely cost-efficient program, you face threats of cuts in benefits, and cost shifts to beneficiaries who can little afford them. There is no doubt your integrity is threatened; and there are those who would make even more dangerous cuts to benefits today that would only make your program weaker over the years.

And Medicaid, do you know what a BLOCK GRANT is? Well, it’s not the Medicaid we have known for 48 years, and it is something The Congress is seriously discussing. Gone would be the Entitlement that brings peace of mind to millions, the kind of peace of mind that comes from the guarantee that what props me up today with better health, will prop me up tomorrow. You would be essentially gutted by a nearly billion-dollar cut over ten years that would reshape your programs and leave many older Americans and people with low incomes out in the cold.

At OWL, we are joining the efforts of organizations like The National Senior Citizens Law Center to protect the rights of low-income older adults as states enact reforms of all types and continue to shift more and more of the provision of Medicare and Medicaid services to managed care plans. We have no choice but to work diligently throughout the country to ensure these changes lead to better access to high quality care that is affordable to all.

We cannot let older adults return to that sad specter from days gone by, an impoverished generation of people trying to handle their increasing health care costs with no assistance whatsoever. Medicare has made it possible for millions to live knowing that a lengthy hospital stay, a serious injury or the need for expensive medication will not bankrupt them. And we cannot let generations of those with low income and the millions who need long term services and supports return to poor health, isolation and insecurity because Medicaid is block granted.

Medicare and Medicaid, we celebrate your 48th anniversary by recognizing how valuable you are to the health of our nation’s older adults, low-income families, and people with disabilities. You may rest assured that the majority of Americans do not want any damage done to any of your programs.

This post originally appeared in The Voice of Midlife and Older Women (OWL) Blog


Janna Starr is a Policy Analyst for the Oregon Health Authority, working on health care transformation for Oregon’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) populations and state implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. Before returning to Oregon in 2007, Starr was Director of Disability Rights, Technology, and Family Policy for The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy Disability Policy Collaboration in Washington, DC.

Previously, she was Executive Director of the Oregon State Council on Developmental Disabilities; Director of Public Policy for the national Brain Injury Association in Alexandria, VA; Senior Policy Associate for United Cerebral Palsy Associations in Washington, DC; Policy Analyst for the Oregon Advocacy Center in Portland, Oregon, and Executive Director of The Arc of Oregon in Salem, Oregon, the Arc of the Capital Area in Austin, Texas and El Centro Social in San Marcos, Texas. Janna has been honored with numerous awards over the years for her work with individuals with disabilities and disability organizations. The Arc of the United States recognized her with its Legislative Advocacy Award, and she was recently presented with the State of Oregon Administrator’s Excellence Award. 

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