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"Hands Off Our Medicare"

By Ken Williams

As you surely know, Medicare reached its 45th anniversary recently. It has done a lot in those few decades to help improve health care in America and to reduce health disparities across racial and ethnic divides. Medicare is most known for guaranteeing health coverage for Americans over 65, but it was also a key driver in a variety of other health care innovations – including the desegregation of hospitals. Although Medicare does a lot to ensure that we, as a nation, are able to provide medical care to many of those most in need, its future is uncertain.

Amid tales of impending financial failure, Medicare has found itself potentially on the chopping block. This December, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (aka the Deficit Commission) will meet to vote on recommendations to reduce the federal deficit, including such drastic measures as reducing Medicare benefits. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) believes that it is imperative to make our voices heard: we cannot support any bill that will limit our patients’ access to quality, affordable health care. Indeed, we believe that the real solution is not to reduce or eliminate Medicare, but is, instead, to expand Medicare’s coverage to ALL those living in America.

AMSA believes that the expansion of Medicare would hold many benefits for America, not just in terms of the nation’s physical and mental health, but also in terms of our financial health. By expanding and improving Medicare, we can shift the focus of our health care system from the failed for-profit structure that has caused many of our fellow Americans to find themselves in bankruptcy (a 2009 Harvard study found that over 62% of all bankruptcies result from massive medical bills, a 50% increase over the 2001–2007 period) to a system built around preventive primary care and wellness.

AMSA believes that the right approach is to:

  • Expand Medicare and "buy-in" options as steps toward improved Medicare-for-all;
  • Protect access to care by limiting out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare beneficiaries; and
  • Find a permanent solution to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) that appropriately incentivizes primary care and provides adequate compensation to maximize provider participation in the Medicare program.

These and other improvements are the real solution for America’s physical, mental, and fiscal health. For-profit health care is already leading to higher numbers of uninsured Americans, increased bankruptcy rates, and an inflated national deficit. It is time that we look to real solutions such as Expanded Medicare-for-All (H.R. 676), rather than reducing a program that already provides so much to our country and our fellow citizens.

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