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Guest column | Marc Yacht

Don't kill Medicare, expand coverage

When President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, about half the senior population in the country had no coverage for hospitalizations. Many were denied coverage by private insurers due to medical conditions. The average U.S. life span in 1964 was 71.6 years and by 2009, after the advent of Medicare, the life span increased to 78.1. It would be higher but is dragged down by the preventable deaths within the current uninsured population.

Length of life is only half the story as the quality of life has improved enormously for our senior citizens with assured health coverage, access to chronic disease management and medication. Although conservatives have attacked Medicare since its inception, the American people embrace it. Seniors represent 12.9 percent of the U.S. population (2009).

In spite of Medicare successes that have saved millions of lives and improved the quality of life for elderly Americans, conservatives are attempting to turn over Medicare to the private health insurance sector. There are very few citizens who would jump on a soap box to tout the benefits of private sector health insurance.

Private health insurance coverage remains out of reach to tens of millions and the numbers are increasing. Private sector health coverage does not serve well all the American people and few would deny that fact. Yet, millions of dollars are poured into political coffers to protect private insurers. Co-opted politicians then continue to defend the indefensible, touting the advantages of the private insurer at the expense of the health and welfare of the American people.

Medicare has survived continued attacks for decades. President Reagan called Medicare socialism, a favorite buzzword for anything the conservatives are against. Newt Gingrich made his own run against Medicare helping push President Bill Clinton to his second term. Americans like Medicare and few appreciate saboteurs.

Medicare is a single-payer system with administrative costs under 4 percent and despite continued attacks and redesign of the program, elders, doctors, and hospitals prefer it over many other insurance plans. Instead of trying to destroy Medicare, politicians should expand coverage. Private health care administrative costs, due to fragmentation, complex infrastructures, and profiteering approach 35 percent.

Cries of the advantages of marketplace ring hollow when you hear the horror stories of people denied health care. Often, those tales come from the insured.

President Obama wanted Medicare to insure everyone over 55 years of age. Tens of thousands of uninsured Americans would have been covered. Aside from expected "nays" from Republicans, a cadre of Democrats helped defeat the expansion as well as a needed public option to help rein in the abuses of private insurers.

What President Obama accomplished in the current plan remains under attack and will continue to face the undermining of politicians on both sides of the aisle filling their re-election coffers with health insurer money. Unfortunately, Obamacare leaves much to be desired. To protect private insurers, there is little check on escalating health costs, more citizens are uninsured or under-insured, and relief from escalating premiums appears a pipe-dream.

The private insurers are in control. The very people that recently destroyed an opportunity to provide a decent model for America's health care system now want to destroy the only viable senior health care plan that works, Medicare.

I witness the plight of the uninsured at the CARES free senior clinic in New Port Richey. People age 50 to 65 with major, untreated medical problems are unable to get the specialty care and hospital care they need. They pray to survive until Medicare eligible. Many will not reach 65. A recent patient I saw had a facial melanoma that had been untreated and could well have been fatal if it were not for the kindness of a local dermatologist. That was a happier ending as many simply cannot find the care they need. Free clinic care is limited at best.

The solution to health care lies in simplifying coverage through a single-payer system such as Medicare, tort reform, and revisiting what has become draconian regulatory oversight. House Resolution 676 flounders in Congress. This legislation would mandate Medicare for all. It would work and our elected officials know it.

Marc Yacht retired as director of the Pasco County Health Department.

Don't kill Medicare, expand coverage 04/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 8:48pm]
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