07/01/2011 04:16 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2011

Medicare: 45 Years and Going Strong -- We Must Protect It

Hubert Humphrey once said that the moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the twilight of life, and the shadows of life. Medicare helps America pass that moral test.

For all the political difficulty and long journey the Medicare program has endured, it stands as the most significant piece of social legislation written in our nation's history. Its launch 45 years ago immediately satisfied millions of Americans who were in desperate need of health coverage, especially for the elderly and disabled, and throughout its life, the program has continued to improve and today delivers quality care with remarkably low administrative costs -- much lower than those from private insurers.

Before Medicare, for many Americans, getting old meant bearing the hurt of not treating an illness or injury or being impoverished. Our nation drastically improved when I stood with President Johnson on stage in Independence, Missouri; I watched his signature rewrite the ending chapters for our nation's elderly; adding years to their lives, but also adding dignity too. Since its launch in 1966, Medicare has bestowed relentless compassion on our aging society.

Captivated by the wisdom of the architects of Medicare -- including my dad -- Congress has built on their work and has kept the program working for the American people. Today, Medicare provides over 47 million Americans with dependable medical insurance, prescription drug coverage, and is the largest health care provider in our nation. These vital safety nets critically support struggling retirees and those coping with sickness or injury.

Today, Medicare faces a new challenge. Four and a half decades of hard work could be shattered by the House Republican budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, which ends Medicare as we know it. First, it would drastically eliminate Medicare benefits and shift costs to seniors and individuals with disabilities. Second, in ten years, seniors who become eligible for Medicare would receive a federal contribution or 'voucher', based on income, to purchase health insurance coverage in the private market rather than receive insurance directly through Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office projects that this change will immediately increase out-of-pocket expenses for seniors by more than $6,000 each and increase to more than $12,000 in 2032. Third, the Republican proposal will increase the eligibility age for Medicare. Thus, the millions of Americans who have made their retirement plans with Medicare in mind would have to wait an extra two years. For the Republicans to say they are reforming Medicare, not ending it, is like putting feathers on a fish and trying to say it is a duck; you aren't fooling this poor Polish lawyer into believing it is the same program. Republicans can call it what they want, but their plan is not the dependable Medicare program that Americans can come to trust and rely on -- instead it throws Medicare beneficiaries into the mercy of the insurance plans.

I recognize that as our senior population increases, revisions to Medicare are needed to control costs; however, ending Medicare is not the solution. Instead, we must crack down on waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare; we must work to limit procedures that are proven to have little or no medical benefits and find efficiencies in the system through coordinating care; and Medicare must limit duplicative services and stop overpayments to private Medicare plans.

We must lift the burden and enhance Medicare, not break it. I will not let Republican renegades tear down a program that for 45 years has served our nation's sick and elderly very well, fulfilling our moral obligation to those most in need.