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Miles J. Zaremski Headshot

Medicare Represents a Right to Health Care for Seniors

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I have refrained from filing a web log ("blog") in recent weeks on my favorite topic, health care being a right for all Americans, that I first wrote about in 2008 a month before the Democratic National Convention. I wanted to merely take in the landscape of current political events in this arena, rather than continue to be loquacious on the subject. In light of the outcome of NY-26 (a Congressional district considered a bastion of Republicanism where only days ago a Democrat took the Congressional seat); the Senate voting down Paul Ryan's (R-Ws.) budget bill that dismantles Medicare as we know it today; the House voting to turn down a "clean" budget ceiling increase the other day -- holding it hostage to spending cuts including substantial Medicare reform; and in various elections nationwide where a Democrat has taken over a long-held Republican seat, it is time to speak up once more.

Political pundits have focused on a changing landscape where the message is clear. The nation does not want the Medicare program to change, and certainly not to change it by allowing the private sector to meddle and cost Medicare recipients more dough than they pay for it now. Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC spoke in a 30 second spot recently of necessities such as health care; President Obama spoke overseas about "basic necessities" defined to include health care; and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has sponsored in the Senate "The American Health Care Security Act of 2011" (with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wa.) sponsoring the same titled bill in the House) where he (Sanders) is quoted as saying, "The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people". Right on, Bernie. Even Newt Gingrich, who got hammered for describing what Ryan wanted to do as too radical from the right, really was quite accurate... and should never have apologized to his colleagues for saying what he did -- since in the days after he spoke, events have shown him to be actually quite accurate.

But everyone is missing a fundamental point that, unless appreciated and admitted, makes buffoons out of those who will not, or who do not, wish to listen. Ears open, everyone. Yes, our nation's seniors have said don't mess with our Medicare. But the message is but in microcosm to the broader message: Medicare represents a right for our older population to health care. To all those in Congress, got it???

In a campaign debate in Nashville against McCain before the 2008 election, Obama was asked how he viewed health care -- as a right, as a privilege or as a responsibility. Without hesitation, he said it was a right. He could not have been more prophetic, given the hue and cry over preserving Medicare right now. Of course, the 2010 Affordable Care Act became law a year ago March, and while, admittedly, has not reached the goal of allowing all citizens to afford and access health care in the country, it is a solid start toward recognizing health care as a right.

N.B. The mandate that everyone purchase coverage within this new federal law will be decided by the Supreme Court probably next year or so (one federal appeals circuit court heard oral arguments last month on the constitutionality of the mandate, and other cases are already in the queue), and was never Obama's first choice (he wanted the public option that would inject necessary competition to keep costs lower than they are even now); Bernie Sanders' bill would accomplish what Obama could not.

If proof is in the pudding, so to speak, what has been going on with Medicare in recent days could not be clearer. It is the sine qua non of a principle I have long advanced: as human thought advances over time, our views, once held sacrosanct, change. This is part of the human condition and ingrained within the fabric of social transition. Our views on health care as part of the human condition are no different. Health care is, and should be, a right that all Americans must possess. While paying for it is always a hurdle, our seniors are leading the way by telling elected officials to keep their grubby hands off Medicare, nee don't mess with their right to health care.

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