Let’s all celebrate Medicare’s birthday

By Lee J. Price for the Gainesville Sun

Republican and Democrats alike are swarming at the opportunity to cut government programs under the guise of “balancing the budget,” and everyone’s eyes are on Social Security and Medicare.

The problem is that Social Security hasn’t contributed a dime to the federal deficit. And Medicare runs more efficiently than private insurance while improving the lives of seniors.

I should know; I’m alive today because of Medicare, alive because of government medicine.

And I’m proud to have been a part of the fight to win Medicare — which celebrates its 46th birthday this month. It was not an easy fight, by any means. It was already defeated once, in the 1930s, as part of Social Security, and in 1948, when Harry S. Truman revisited the issue.

But in 1964, Lyndon Johnson put Medicare again on the front burner. In the front ranks of supporters were the unions, which have always been in the forefront of health-care struggles. There was a massive nationwide campaign of petition drives. I was part of the effort as a member of the Florida Young Democrats, collecting signatures and tabling outside of supermarkets.

As the vote in Congress drew nigh, there were huge rallies across the country. I’ll always remember watching the bill being signed on TV, on July 30, 1965. President Johnson presented Medicare card No. 1 to a beaming Harry Truman.

It was a great victory. At the time we thought, “We’ll take care of the old folks now, and soon we’ll expand it to everyone.”

Unfortunately, private insurance companies came to profit off our hard-earned dollars and costs skyrocketed. Now Medicare is seen as the problem, when in fact it is the model we should be using. Medicare spends 97 cents of every dollar on health care. Insurance companies only spend about 80 cents and keep the rest for profit and overhead. Expanding Medicare to cover everyone would save over $400 billion a year — money that could be used to improve Medicare services and payments.

I invite everyone to join me at a birthday party for Medicare on Saturday, July 30, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Library Partnership, 1130 NE 16th Ave, in Gainesville. The Alachua County Labor Party will provide cake and refreshments and invites people to share their stories and concerns about Medicare. Call (352) 375-2832 for more info.

I was young when the struggle began, and now I am old. It seems likely now that I will not see Medicare expanded as I had hoped. But I labor on, spreading the word about the only plan that covers all Americans, the only plan that actually saves money: Single-payer Medicare for All.

Lee J. Price lives in Gainesville.