Social Security is 77 years old this month and Medicare just turned 47. Celebrate their birthdays, but also recognize that both programs are under siege.
The two programs are jointly responsible for providing basic economic security and quality health care for millions of older Americans. Without Social Security, nearly half of today’s elderly would have incomes below the poverty line. Without Medicare, many elderly would simply bankrupt themselves paying for the high costs of health care.
If I had a birthday cake with 124 candles and the lung capacity to blow them out, what would I wish for?
First, I would wish that the nation could celebrate the fact that Social Security has achieved remarkable success in reducing the number of elderly poor. While there are still close to 10 percent of older Americans living in poverty (and that is a national disgrace), as recently as 1960, 35 percent of those over age 65 were poor.
Second, I would wish that politicians would end the mistruths and fear-mongering attacks on Medicare. Before the program existed, more than half of older Americans lacked health insurance of any kind. Today, almost all older Americans have basic health coverage thanks to Medicare.
The challenge for advocates of both programs remains daunting as there are many who wish to tear down both programs and start over. We must not let that happen.