COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland/DC Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) held a gathering to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid to bring awareness to the importance of both programs remaining in place on July 30.
“There have been so many people that have are going to be hurt if we don’t continue with the Medicare,” said ARA State President Maria Cordone. “There are ways of keeping this going. We are a smart, intelligent country. There are always answers, and there is always a solution.”
The ARA is a national organization that brings awareness and works with legislative leaders to brings change to issues that affect retirees, seniors, the disabled and working people. They hold meetings and events around the country to advocate for their cause.
Their work surrounding Medicare and Medicaid becomes exceptionally prominent around this time of year. With July 30 being the anniversary of the day President Lyndon B. Johnson officially signed Medicare and Medicaid into effect, the ARA makes it a part of their yearly cycle to host events around the country in late July and early August to make people aware of how important it is.
“Roughly 50 million people rely on Medicare to get their healthcare. Otherwise, we would have extremely high rates of old-age poverty,” said ARA Executive Director Richard Fiesta. “We at the alliance consider this time of year to be our time to promote Medicare and to make the general public aware of it.”
Advocacy for Medicare and Medicaid is especially important in today’s political climate, according to Cordone. The House budget for fiscal year 2019 plans to cut these programs that millions of people use by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
“There have been threats by people in Congress starting with the Speaker of the House (Paul) Ryan that after the tax cut bill in December 2017 he said with the deficit growing because of that bill, the next thing we’ll do is we’ll have to go after the entitlement programs which means Medicare and Medicaid and social security,” Fiesta said. “So it’s important for us to publicize the great things the programs do nationwide and they aren’t only programs for retired people.”
The 53rd-anniversary celebration took place at the University of Maryland College Park’s Hornbake Library. About 20 members and supporters of the ARA gathered for cake, and Fiesta gave an overview of how important Medicare and Medicaid is today.
According to Fiesta, in Maryland alone, 16 percent of the population or one out of six people use Medicare, which is the federally funded program that older people join at the age of 65. Of that number, 828,000 people are seniors, and 150,000 people are disabled. On the other hand, 1.2 million people are on Medicaid, which is a federally and state-funded program primarily for low-income people.
Because of these programs, people can get the essential health care they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise such as preventative screenings. In 2016, 675,000 seniors got free tests they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
“It’s critical that people have access to Medicare and Medicaid,” said Jerry Dancis who attended the event. “It should be for everyone. Not having the money for health care traps people.”
The state spends just under $11 billion per year on Medicare and about $10.5 billion per year on Medicaid with administrative costs being only two to three percent of the cost, Fiesta said.
“For a lot of people this is all they have,” said attendee Regenia Campbell. “Especially if they live in a poorer Appalachia or rural areas, this is what they live on...If they don’t work for a union business, then they have to pay for it themselves.”
The ARA emphasized that it not only benefits seniors. 32,000 veterans in Maryland are enrolled in the programs, Fiesta said, and 15,000 people are in nursing homes. People generally enroll in Medicare at the age of 65, but those who are disabled can enroll before then if needed.
“This is so important,” Cordone said. “Why are we not taking care of each other? Why are we not embracing every single human being and talking about this? That’s what this is about...That’s what it was about during the industrial revolution. This is what it was about during John F. Kennedy. It was always that we took care of each other and we need to continue doing that. We cannot just let it go away.”