By Dimitri Drekonja, M.D.
St. Cloud (Minn.) Times, Letters, July 23, 2015
On July 30, America celebrates the 50th birthday of Medicare.
Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, this remarkably successful program finances medical care for over 55 million Americans — those over age 65, and others with permanent disabilities. It enables patients to go to the doctor or hospital of their choice, and has kept millions of senior citizens out of poverty.
While Medicare has had funding problems, these are due to a fixed funding source tied to a set 1.45 percent payroll tax paid by both employers and employees — at a time when health care costs are steadily rising.
Medicare contends with the same skyrocketing health care costs as private insurers, but has to do so without annual premium increases. As such, Medicare by necessity has become an amazingly efficient payer. Whereas private insurers run overhead costs of 15 percent to 30 percent, Medicare spends just 2 percent on overhead, making it the most efficient way of paying for care — regardless of who is delivering the care.
Medicare’s 50th birthday is an important milestone, and also a glimpse of what could be available to all Americans.
An expanded Medicare, covering all Americans, not just the elderly or the disabled, would dramatically simplify how we pay for health care in America. Americans would see the same doctors and go to the same facilities, but instead of dealing with mazes of insurance paperwork, open-enrollment periods, pre-authorizations, and denied care, there would be a single organization with a single set of rules.
Opposing this goal is a coalition of enormously profitable and influential organizations, all of whom have vested interests in reaping enormous profits that can be made by playing middleman between the care provider and patient.
Let’s celebrate the fact the Medicare has made it to 50 years, and expand it to cover all Americans.
Dr. Dimitri Drekonja resides in Minneapolis.