July 30 marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and IBEW is joining the AFL-CIO and supporters across the country to celebrate. A National Day of Action will include rallies, birthday parties, teach-ins and more in support of the federal program that guarantees health care for every American over 65. The Alliance for Retired Americans is planning more than 120 events over the next two weeks in 35 states.

“Healthcare is a right and for 54 million Americans in this country, access to that right comes from Medicare. Organized labor led the charge 50 years ago, and we are pleased to celebrate its success today with a renewed commitment to Medicare,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare (and Medicaid) into law in 1965, roughly half of older Americans lacked healthcare coverage. Today, only a fraction remain uninsured. And the programs remain popular with the public.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found more than three-quarters of Americans and program beneficiaries view Medicare positively. And a strong majority -- 70 percent -- say that Medicare should continue to provide all seniors with the same defined set of benefits.

Additionally, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that Medicare’s financial outlook is improving, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act. “Health reform has contributed significantly to Medicare's improved financial outlook, boosting revenues and making the program more efficient” says senior fellow Paul N. Van De Water.

Despite public approval and increased revenues, there have been several proposals by lawmakers to raise the eligibility age to 67 and privatize Medicare through voucher programs. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare states that the most recent House and Senate budget proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act “would jeopardize health care for millions of Americans.”  

“These changes will not only raise healthcare costs for seniors but will cost state and local governments billions of dollars,” Stephenson said. “Our seniors shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can afford live-saving medications or treatments to maintain a high quality of life. We owe them better than that. We owe them a strong and solvent Medicare program.”

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Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Kathea Pinto.