Celebrate Medicare’s 50th Birthday By Expanding It To All

Published on
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
by Common Dreams

by Garrett Adams

The nation has a lot to celebrate when Medicare turns 50 on July 30.

Fifty years ago, the rapid rollout of Medicare flowed from the simplicity of its basic principle: virtually everyone 65 and older was automatically eligible for government health insurance. Now all we have to do is make it better and provide it to everyone. (Image: PNHP)

Fifty years ago, the rapid rollout of Medicare flowed from the simplicity of its basic principle: virtually everyone 65 and older was automatically eligible for government health insurance. Now all we have to do is make it better and provide it to everyone. (Image: PNHP)

Medicare has brought care and dignity to millions of seniors, relieving their suffering and extending their lives.

Protect It;
Improve It;
Expand It.

Before President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in Independence, Missouri, in 1965, only about half of those over 65 had health insurance. In the 50 years since then, life expectancy has risen by more than nine years to a little over 79 years.

Medicare ended segregation in our country’s hospitals when federal reimbursements for patient care were made contingent on ending discrimination. Within a few months the walls tumbled in the face of sound public policy and financing based on social justice.

Today, Medicare covers about 17 percent of our population, over 55 million people, including those other than the elderly whom the private insurance industry has abandoned – the permanently disabled and those on dialysis from kidney failure.

Medicare has important lessons for our entire health care system. It was implemented within 10 months of enactment with no computerized records – only a system of notecards.

The program’s rapid rollout flowed from the simplicity of its basic principle: virtually everyone 65 and older was automatically eligible for government health insurance. In contrast, the complicated, problem-prone, private-insurance-based Affordable Care Act is unfolding over a period of 10 years and will still leave 30 million people without coverage – and millions more who are nominally covered but cannot afford care.

Patients in traditional Medicare go to the doctors and hospitals of their choice. There are no limited networks to get in the way of care.

Traditional Medicare spends about 2 percent (according to the 2014 Medicare trustees’ report) on administration and overhead. Medicare is efficient and frugal compared to private insurance, whose overhead and profits are 12 to 14 percent or more (individual market overhead typically amounts to 20 percent to 30 percent).

On July 30, in Washington, D.C., longtime single-payer advocates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. John Conyers (chief sponsor of HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act), and others will speak at a rally for Medicare’s 50th anniversary in Upper Senate Park, starting at 9:30 a.m.

Later that day, starting at 1 p.m., Rep. Conyers will host a Medicare 50th Celebration Panel in Room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Across the country, people in more than 70 cities will join in rallies and celebrations.

The theme of all the events is to Protect, Improve, and Expand Medicare – PIE:

Protect it, because many in Congress would like to place our best-yet health care program on the chopping block and privatize it.

Improve it, because despite its valuable contributions, Medicare falls short on dental and drugs and leaves some people still unable to afford care.

Expand it – to the entire population – allowing us to end the waste of $400 billion annually that is currently spent on the needless bureaucracy and paperwork associated with the private health insurance industry.

By applying the savings to assuring universal care, Rep. Conyers’ single-payer legislation would make health care a human right. H.R. 676 currently has 49 co-sponsors.

I believe our nation has a compassionate heart and a deep national desire for universal care. What better time to make these yearnings manifest – and to demand that they be realized – than Medicare’s golden anniversary? Tell your lawmakers: we want an improved Medicare for All.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Dr. Garrett Adams is a longtime pediatrician in Louisville, Ky. He is past president of Physicians for a National Health Program.


Rep. Gomberg bill to help seniors stay in own homes enroute to Governor for signature » News Lincoln County

Rep. Gomberg’s Bill helps low-income seniors and disabled Oregonians stay in their homes

SALEM­—On Monday, the Oregon Senate gave final legislative approval to Rep. Gomberg’s HB 4148A, which provides direct relief to hundreds of seniors struggling to stay in their own homes. The bill changes the interest rate calculation for seniors participating in the state’s property tax deferral program.

“Helping seniors remain in their homes is key to preserving dignity and choice for older Oregonians. Senior Property Tax Deferral is a great program that fulfills these goals. HB 4148 makes minor adjustments that ensure it remains solvent, while protecting seniors from additional fees,” said Rep. Gomberg.

“The Senior and Disabled Property Tax Deferral Program helps thousands of seniors who are at risk of losing their homes,” said Senator Ginny Burdick (D-Portland), chair of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee. “The change we’re making today provides a measure of fairness for our most vulnerable Oregonians, while maintaining the solvency of the program.”

The Senior and Disabled Property Tax Deferral Program allows seniors and disabled individuals who have qualifying incomes and meet other criteria to defer county property taxes; the state is repaid when their homes are sold.

“It’s our duty to keep the deferral program fund solvent while helping as many people as possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland). “Today’s vote gives some relief to seniors struggling to stay in their homes.”

House Bill 4148A would change the calculation for the rate of interest that the Oregon Department of Revenue charges for deferred taxes. Currently, the department charges compound interest on debt accrued since 2011. The bill would change the calculation to apply simple interest to these accounts instead of the more costly compound interest calculation.

“By making this change, we are helping more seniors stay in the homes they’ve built their lives around,” said Senator Alan Bates (D-Medford). “This change will ease the financial burden that seniors face.”

Seniors interested in joining the program should contact the Department of Revenue at questions.dor@state.or.us .

HB 4148A will now go to Governor John A. Kitzhaber for his signature.

via Rep. Gomberg bill to help seniors stay in own homes enroute to Governor for signature » News Lincoln County.

Social Security Turns 78 Today! Will It Make It To 80?


President, National Organization for Women

Seventy-eight years ago today, on August 14 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill that created Social Security into law. And yet, some in Washington are still obsessed with undermining this essential foundation of retirement security in America.

They want to tear up legislation that has been passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president, cut protections that provide lifelines to millions of Americans, and wage an argument that everyone else considers settled.

Sound familiar?  Really, it makes the 40 times the Republican Congress has voted to repeal Obamacare seem half-hearted! 

What it is about lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty that Republican leaders and the fat-cat contributors who support them don’t like? 

As Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote,

Conservatives hate Social Security for ideological reasons: its success undermines their claim that government is always the problem, never the solution. But they receive crucial support from Washington insiders, for whom a declared willingness to cut Social Security has long served as a badge of fiscal seriousness, never mind the arithmetic.

But let’s look at the numbers that really matter.

While Social Security is a program that is vitally important to all Americans, it is especially critical to the financial security of women. There are a number of reasons why this is so.

First, women live longer than men, and typically retire with less savings than men. On average, women are paid less than men, either due to outright wage discrimination or because women are clustered into low-paying fields. Over a lifetime, this disparity really adds up. Additionally, women are less likely than men to work for employers that provide pensions, and we often take time out of the paid workforce to care for children or other family members. Women of color retire at an even greater economic disadvantage than white women.

But as is the case in so many instances, the most vulnerable populations in our society are the first to be called to the chopping block.  These low-wage workers, women, people of color and working families don’t have high-priced lobbyists or Wall Street tycoons in their corner.

What they do have is us — and time after time, when we work together, we are able to win!

For example, when the the notorious Simpson-Bowles Commission launched an attack on Social Security that would cut benefits and raise the retirement age, women fought back.    Simpson-Bowles would have pushed millions of women into poverty and out of the middle class by moving Social Security toward being a welfare program, rather than the guaranteed income security program it was designed to be.

With our leadership, we were able to wage an effective defense of our rights to income security.  But now, on this anniversary of the birth of Social Security, it’s time to move away from playing defense and go on the offense. 

We need to not just defend Social Security, but expand it.

Millions of American women are depending on us to succeed.

Social Security is even more important to women because we live longer than men and typically retire with less savings than men. On average, women are paid less than men, either due to outright wage discrimination or because women are clustered into low-paying fields. Over a lifetime, this disparity really adds up.

Additionally, women are less likely than men to work for employers that provide pensions, and we often take time out of the paid workforce to care for children or other family members. And women of color retire at an even greater economic disadvantage than white women.

What’s more, more than 2/3 of workers who earn the minimum wage are women — and many of them are members of what I call the “three shift brigade.”

These women have a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart, another one at a local diner, and then they come home to take up their vital — and unpaid — responsibilities as caregivers to children, elderly or disabled parents and other family members.  That adds up to three shifts of difficult, often backbreaking work.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt couldn’t have predicted this sector of the economy, but in 2013, it’s a reality that cannot be ignored.

Social Security is supposed to provide income insurance based on a workers’ lifetime of employment.  But one of the main reasons that women have fewer assets and less income in retirement than do men is that they often interrupt their participation in the labor force to provide services to family members.  These temporary interruptions can lead to a huge reduction in the amount of a woman’s Social Security benefit.

Congresswomen Gwen Moore (D-WI) has proposed a Social Security Enhancement and Protection Act that will improve Social Security coverage for women, people of color, and low-income Americans and improve revenue for the program.  According to Rep. Moore:

There is broad agreement that we need to take steps to improve the fiscal outlook for Social Security. However, in addition to extending the solvency of the system, we must improve it so it works better for vulnerable populations, including women, people of color, and low-income people. My legislation would enhance benefits and help us ensure that Social Security does what it was intended to do — ensure that all Americans are not at risk of living in poverty.


This month, while members of Congress are back home in their districts — where, as this article in the New York Times explains, many of them are assiduously avoiding town hall meetings with their constituents — we need to demand laws such as Gwen Moore’s that strengthen Social Security for women, people of color and low-income workers.

Another essential remedy is to provide Social Security credits for caregivers.  We need to credit unpaid family caregivers when they take leave to care for family members.  According to the Center for American Progress,

Workers who leave the labor force or significantly reduce their hours in the workforce to provide family care should be allowed to earn credits toward Social Security retirement benefits so that they accumulate Social Security savings for their retirement. But this remedy must be coupled with paid family leave in order to provide low-wage workers with the opportunity to stay connected to the labor force in the first place.


In this way, those providing care will earn immediate and long-term income based on the everyday realities of today’s workplace, enabling these workers and their families to better thrive and prosper in our economy today.


We’ve had to fight every step of the way to protect our core values of justice, fairness, economic security and equal rights.  In a few weeks, I’ll be one of the featured speakers at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington where I will commemorate not only Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech, but also celebrate all that has been achieved in the 50 years since that original march — and recognize all that remains to be done.

Let’s start by expanding Social Security now, to ensure that future generations of retirees can depend on the economic security they’ve worked so hard and so selflessly to earn.




Follow Terry O’Neill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Terryoneill



Obamacare Repeal Vote for the 37th Time | Nel’s New Day

They did it. They really did it. Once again the House insisted on voting to repeal Obamacare, already a law approved by the Supreme Court. Today the vote was 229-195 with all Republicans and Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and Mike McIntyre (NC) voting in favor of repealing the law.

How many times have there been votes on Obamacare? Yesterday, David Fahrenthold and Ed O’Keefe published a list that comes to 36, making today’s vote the 37th. That number doesn’t count votes in the Senate which would bring the total to the mid-50s.

Just voting has taken a great deal of time, but there have been untold additional hours in litigating and otherwise working to dismantle the president’s biggest legislative accomplishment. Today is at least the 43rd day since the GOP took over the House in January 2011 that they spent the day voting on this issue. That’s 43 days out of 281 days that they have held votes during that time. That’s 15 percent of the time on the House floor to repeal Obamacare.

Some people might consider this lack of activity an embarrassment for the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put it a bit stronger when he said they have “truly lost their minds.” He explained his statement this way:

“Albert Einstein defined insanity as follows: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If his definition is true—and I won’t argue with Einstein—then House Republicans have truly lost their minds.”

If, through some magic, the House bill would pass the Senate and then be signed by the president, it would cost taxpayers $109 billion over the next ten years through the loss of Obamacare’s taxes, fees, and spending cuts.

More than that loss, however, is the loss to over one-third of the people in the United States. At this time these people would be the losers with the repeal of Obamacare:

129 million with pre-existing conditions would again be at the mercy of insurance companies;

105 million would again have lifetime limits on insurance company coverage;

71 million—including 34 million seniors—would lose no-cost preventive care, including mammograms and contraception;

18 million in the middle class would not receive a tax credit averaging $4,000 a year starting next year;

17 million children with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage;

13 million consumers who received more than $1 BILLION in rebates last year because Obamacare requires insurers to spend 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care would lose any future rebates;

6 million young adults—3.1 million of them previously uninsured–currently allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance would no longer have this benefit;

6 million seniors receiving discounts—more than $6 billion so far—on prescription drugs would lose this benefit.

In addition, new resources to fight fraud would be eliminated, efforts that recouped $4.2 billion just this past year because of attempts to defraud seniors and taxpayers.

The GOP’s obsession with taking health care benefits away from more than 100 million people in this nation is a waste of time, a waste of money, and harmful to the tens of millions of Americans already benefiting from Obamacare. It’s a major reason that this Congress is the most unproductive ever.

One estimate for all this effort from the GOP House is at least $55 million. That’s what it has cost to continually try to eradicate the legislation that will help most of the people in the United States by providing affordable health care.

Think Progress has four ideas on how this $55 million could have been used to help the people of the United States:

Restore cuts from sequestration to Title X family planning programs and Title V maternal and child health services. The 5-percent cut to their budgets costs them $47.5 million. The House could use their $55 million to expand funding for these important programs.

Double the Department of Justice’s budget for sexual assault services, which has currently been authorized a $50 million budget. The funding for this program goes to states to support rape crisis centers and other nongovernmental organizations to provide direct intervention, core services, and other assistance to the victims of sexual assault. Current funding is so inadequate that some states receive less than $300,000 and many programs lack the resources to meet victims’ needs.

Grant a request for $50 million to train 5,000 new mental health professionals as part of a new initiative to expand mental health treatment and prevention services. People who oppose any gun-control legislation yammer on about the gaps in the mental health system; the House could use its $55 million to start filling these.

Help states implement paid leave policies. President Obama included a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund in his 2011 budget to provide start-up support for states that want to enact paid leave for workers. More than 40 percent of workers lack access to paid sick leave, leaving them with no choice except to go to work when they are sick or their sick family members need help. The $55 million could help them.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) perfectly described the idiocy of today’s vote against Obamacare in the House:

“The guys who’ve been up here the last year, we can go home and say, ‘Listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace Obamacare.’ Tell me what the new guys are supposed to say?”

He, like all the other GOP representatives who pushed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) into the insanity of a 37th vote, just wanted to prove that they could cast a vote against Obamacare, a law that helps the people of their states.

Almost one-fourth of the children in Mulvaney’s state live under the poverty level, the percentage of people in poverty in South Carolina is higher than the national average, the unemployment rate is higher than the national level, almost 70 percent of the adults in the state are overweight or obese, and South Carolina is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, ranking 46th in the nation. Obamacare helps Mulvaney’s constituents, and he votes against it.

The media about today’s vote didn’t concentrate on the results: those were a given. They concentrated instead on the repetitive uselessness of the vote—not good press for a political party trying to win the next election.

After its abject failure in last fall’s election, the Republican party commissioned a report on how to remake its image. One piece of advice was to be the party that is for something instead of always against something. The GOP House freshmen didn’t get the memo.

As Susan Milligan wrote:

“Voting dozens of times to repeal the health care law goes well beyond putting members on record. It merely serves to show the American public how dysfunctional Congress remains, with the hallowed chambers–where wars and budgets and civil rights have been debated–being converted into campaign arenas.”

Recently, Boehner wrote on his Facebook page that “Americans need common-sense solutions to create jobs.” Yet under his leadership, the House has passed not one job-creation bill. As leader of the House Republicans, he controls the issues in the House. Yes, Speaker Boehner, people in the country need these solutions. What are you doing about it, Speaker Boehner?


Beyond PERS: All Oregonians deserve a secure retirement: Guest opinion | OregonLive.com

Beyond PERS: All Oregonians deserve a secure retirement: Guest opinion | OregonLive.com.

By Norma Mullen and Kristin Teigen

There has been no shortage of debate over PERS in Salem this session. But with Oregon’s senior population (only a fraction of whom are public employees) expected to double in the next 20 years, it’s time for a bigger conversation about retirement — with a focus on those Oregonians for whom a secure retirement is simply out of reach.

Not too long ago, the American dream included the notion that we’d all be able to spend our retirement comfortably, relying on savings accumulated during our working years. Today, that dream is in grave doubt.

Working-age adults are now the poorest they’ve been in about 50 years, and more than half of Oregonians don’t have enough money to retire. Not surprisingly, the picture is bleakest for women and people of color, as pay inequities and insufficient access to workplace retirement programs snowball into the retirement years.

Fewer than half of African American, Latino and low-income workers have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. After a lifetime of lower pay or long periods out of work, African Americans and Latinos receive 26 percent less in average annual benefits from Social Security than do most seniors. And African American and Latino seniors are twice as likely as the senior population as a whole to be living in poverty.

Women face disproportionate challenges in retirement. Not only do they have lower lifetime average earnings (Oregon women earn just 78 cents for every dollar men earn, plus a motherhood penalty), they are also more likely to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan and to spend more time out of the workforce caring for loved ones. As a result, 80 percent of the poorest 25 percent of Oregonians in retirement are women.

The majority of the older adults served by the Urban League of Portland’s senior center are women who have lost their spouse. With most of these women relying on Social Security for more than 90 percent of their retirement income, they depend on a fixed income of between $649 and $1,100 per month to pay rent, buy food and fill prescriptions. For these women (and many others) the things we look forward to in retirement, such as traveling to visit grandchildren, are simply out of reach.

We can do better for all Oregonians. No one should have to decide whether they will eat, pay the utility bill or skimp on a birthday present for their grandkids.

House Bill 3436, currently under consideration in Salem, is the first step toward making a secure retirement possible for all Oregonians. It brings together the key players to study the issue of retirement security and develop a doable, effective solution to present to the 2015 Legislature.

When people can’t afford to retire or they retire in poverty, we all pay the price — through our families, our communities and the state. We must find solutions that serve Oregonians and protect state resources.

Together, we urge the Legislature to pass HB3436 and restore the American dream of a secure retirement for all working Oregonians.

Norma Mullen is the senior services program director of the Urban League of Portland. Kristin Teigen is president of the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women.