THE BLOG
10/15/2012 02:51 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2012

Medicare Under Siege, Yet Stronger Than Ever

Over the next seven weeks, it will be increasingly clear that Medicare is strong, and that Congressman Paul Ryan's plan to end guaranteed health benefits for seniors is the wrong prescription for America.

Starting today, the nearly 50 million Americans receiving health care through Medicare and new enrollees can sign up for 2013 health benefits that -- without Medicare -- they couldn't afford.

President Lyndon Johnson's vision of a more affordable health care system for seniors is becoming more of a reality.

As he once put it, no senior should "be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine" or have to "crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years."

Medicare began in 1966. And now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), its health coverage is better than before. Under the ACA, savings from cutting wasteful spending and fraud will extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by an additional eight years.

A lot has changed since Medicare went into effect. New technologies have developed that keep Americans healthier and help them live longer. Medicine has changed. But one thing hasn't: seniors need affordable care. In fact, the rising cost of health care today means seniors need Medicare's protection more than ever.

From today until December 7, during a period called Open Enrollment, Americans 65 and older, those with disabilities and some with diseases, can choose new coverage options or update old plan choices for 2013.

They can learn about new health benefits, increased discounts on prescription drugs and access new tools to navigate a wider selection of high quality options. All are available at www.medicare.gov.

The health care law phases out the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the "donut hole," for example. In 2013, Medicare recipients who reach it will get approximately 53 percent off brand-name drugs and a 21 percent discount on generic drugs -- an improvement from 50 percent off brand names and 14 percent off generics this year.

For a beneficiary with urgent health needs, these savings are significant.

Nevada seniors in the "donut hole," for example, saved over $26 million on prescription drugs costs under health care reform. Next year, seniors across the country in the "donut hole" are projected to save over $720 on their drug costs.

Beneficiaries who want to switch coverage plans can mix and match options. If they want to quickly pinpoint the highest quality plans, Medicare offers 21 more "four or five-star" Advantage plans this year than last, and 13 more "four or five star" prescription drug plans. The star rating system for Medicare Advantage plans, a program that helps seniors asses the quality of private insurance providers, began under the Affordable Care Act.

Keeping quality health care affordable was one of our top goals in writing the Affordable Care Act in Congress. Since it passed in 2010, Medicare Advantage premiums have fallen by 10 percent and enrollment has increased by 28 percent.

Yet despite these benefits, Medicare is under siege.

Congressman Paul Ryan has a budget proposal that would replace guaranteed Medicare benefits with a voucher.

His plan would trade away the health and safety of today's seniors for tax breaks for billionaires, oil companies and corporations that ship jobs overseas.

Turning Medicare into a voucher program, as Congressman Ryan proposes, would increase premiums for most seniors, according to a nonpartisan study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation. By 2022, the Congressional Budget Office estimates his plan would cost seniors an extra $6,400, on average, for health care.

If Congressman Ryan truly wants to reduce health care spending, he should look no further than the Affordable Care Act. I will never stop fighting to preserve this successful program. I'm proud that Medicare is stronger today than in the past. And as long as I am in the Senate, I will oppose Republican plans to weaken or undermine it.