08/01/2014 04:26 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2014

Medicare: It's Only Getting Better with Age

As President Obama spoke in Kansas City this week, it marked 49 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson was not far from the same spot. On July 30, 1965, at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, President Johnson signed Medicare into law and enrolled President Truman as the program's first beneficiary.

Since then, generations of Americans have followed in Truman's footsteps IN the Medicare program. Last year, 52.3 million Americans were covered by Medicare, including more than 43 million over the age of 65.

The benefits of Medicare have been clear in improving access to quality, affordable health care for older Americans and reducing the likelihood of bankruptcy by a lengthy hospital stay or chronic illness. It is a continuation of the commitment made by our nation to our seniors that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can retire with dignity and security.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama and Democrats have strengthened our country's ability to meet that commitment.

The Affordable Care Act closes the Medicare Part D prescription drug donut hole, reducing the problem of seniors jeopardizing their health by reducing or forgoing necessary medication because they couldn't afford it. It also provides for free preventive care, including mammograms and colonoscopies, taking to heart the old adage that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

For those with chronic illnesses, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, they are no longer subject to annual or lifetime limits on benefits. And in addition to reducing waste, fraud and abuse, the Affordable Care Act implemented options that enable hospitals, doctors and other health care providers to better coordinate care.

Health care costs are growing at the slowest level on record. According to the 2014 Medicare trustees report, the slowing of health care costs has helped extend the solvency of Medicare's trust fund an additional four years beyond last year's projection.

Medicare is a promise this nation has made, not just to me, but also to my children and grandchildren. I'm skeptical of anyone who says that the only way we can save Medicare for future generations is to radically change it.

Republican proposals, including Paul Ryan's budget plan, would end Medicare as we know it, and just this past weekend a Republican leader doubled down on their commitment to raising the retirement age. That may seem like an easy thing to do for a Member of Congress who spends their day at a desk looking at ledgers, but delayed benefits would mean hardship for American workers and their families. The ultimate appeal of Medicare is the peace of mind of guaranteed access to quality, affordable health care. That assurance is undermined when seniors are allotted a voucher that may or may not cover the cost of buying insurance.

Instead of learning from the evidence we have that Medicare is working, is solvent, and that the Affordable Care Act is strengthening the program, Republicans are intent on pushing an ideological agenda that hurts seniors. Meanwhile, Democrats remain committed to strengthening Medicare in the same spirit that led them to create the program.

When President Johnson signed the legislation creating Medicare nearly 50 years ago, the elderly were the population group most likely to be living in poverty, and only about half of seniors had hospital insurance coverage. Medicare has been extraordinarily successful in alleviating these problems, and we need to be sure that we elect Democratic leaders who remain committed to protecting Medicare for generations to come.