Oct 21st, 2018, 04:05 PM

Is 'Medicare for All' Really An Extreme Measure?

By Adrienne Cuffley
Image Credit: Creative Commons/Seth Goldstein
Tensions rise on both sides of the political spectrum as Medicare becomes a hot topic in the midterm elections

Elise Philipps is 96 years old. She is the matriarch of my family, the oldest, the wisest, the one most respected. Every year, we celebrate the time we still have with her. For her age, she is doing quite well. She can carry a conversation and walk quite steadily. But she cannot do everything by herself. Two of her children live close by and tend to her as her dementia worsens. Elsie's memory comes and goes so she sees her primary care doctors regularly. She is fortunate enough to afford the medication her doctors prescribe and has a stable support system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Her condition naturally causes stress and concern but I still consider us to be lucky. 

Other families in the United States are not as lucky. 

"Throughout the year, we have seen Democrats across the country uniting around a new legislative proposal that would end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives." These are the now infamous words of Trump in an opinion piece for USA Today, published on October 12. The opinion piece produced a number of falsehoods, or Trumpisms, that the global community has become accustomed to. 

These falsehoods included details concerning costs and the fundamental policy. Trump stated that 'Medicare for All' would take away all benefits from senior and disabled citizens. This is false as the new plan eliminates deductibles and adds new benefits from coverage, including dental and vision. His other main falsehood predicted that the cost of the 'Medicare for All' Act would be $32.6 trillion in the first 10 years. This is misleading since this estimate does not take into account the off-set savings from citizens and employers. 

The current President clearly does not advocate for 'Medicare for All,' in response to legislation being pushed by Senator Bernie Sanders. The President's rhetoric on Medicare remains inconsistent, adamant that he is expanding the program while promoting legislation that does the exact opposite. Trump had his falsehoods published, contesting a hot button issue, right before the midterm elections.

Whomever you choose to believe, Medicare is an extremely polarizing topic in today's healthcare discourse. Trump and his surrogates continue to question the financing of true 'Medicare for All,' while those who oppose him believe and fight for Medicare as a fundamental right that should covered all disabled and elderly Americans. 

Without question, Medicare's current structure continues to deny proper care to elderly American citizens, especially those in lower income households 

But what exactly is Medicare? Many citizens think of Medicare as a health insurance for the elderly that covers most costs. But just like most healthcare jurisdiction in the United States, it is much more complicated than that. According to the Social Security Administration, it is a health insurance policy for people over the age of 65. However, every plan is adapted to an individual's specific circumstances. There are four parts in the program broken down into Parts A, B, C, and D. The most common are Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). Part A typically comes at no cost, while Part B requires a monthly payment plan.

Bernie Sanders and his Democratic colleagues intend to expand and simplify Medicare through a single payer system paid directly by the United States government, copying a similar model from Canada. Most health insurance needs would be fully covered and, if a second private insurance is needed to further supplement costs, then that option can also be provided. Senator Sanders campaigned on not just expanding Medicare but revamping the whole healthcare system into a much more affordable platform. According to Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation poll, Americans are more in favor of 'Medicare for All' proposals. 59 percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are in favor of a 'Medicare for All' policy. 

It is clear that the wants and needs of US tax paying citizens are not being matched by our current policies and they hurt lower-income families the most.  According to the Voice for Health Care Consumers, half of Medicare beneficiaries had incomes of less than $22,500 a year in 2012. One-quarter of them had incomes of less than $14,000 a year.

A further expansion for those who cannot afford monthly payments only makes sense. Much of the current debate stems from an all-or-nothing mentality. Either everything must stay exactly the same or Medicare should be a completely free service.

Image Credit: Flickr/truthseeker08

At the moment our policy proposals are stagnant, killing the elderly and disabled in the waiting process. 

Right now, lower income individuals often fall under the dual eligibles for Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid is a lifeline for 11 million Medicare users. According to AARP, recent healthcare proposals are looking to cut Medicaid or simply give states a block grant. This means giving states a lump sum of money to spend on the program. With the need of Medicare becoming ever greater, cutting expansion will only exacerbate the health gap crisis in this country. More importantly, most people will die because they cannot afford it. 

On October 25, Trump proposed lower costs on medication in the Medicare program. According to Reuters, "The government would create an 'international pricing index' to help Medicare pay prescription drug prices that are more closely aligned with those of other countries."  This is a positive step. However price drops and healthcare expansion have been promised before by the Trump Administration only to undermine that promise in attempts to cut social security and Medicare further. 

According to Bloomberg News, Senate leader Mitch McConnell blamed federal deficits on government assisted programs like Medicare and social security, wanting to cut parts of the program. The likelihood that Trump follows through on this new change of heart is low, especially with this change of consciousness occurring just days before Americans vote on pressing issues including the protection and expansion of their Medicare. 

To learn more about Medicare and expansion policy currently in the Senate look here. More importantly, be on the right side of history and vote in the up coming midterm elections, to further promote affordable Medicare in the United States.