By Matt Cartwright:

Fifty-five years ago this week, President Lyndon B. Johnson ushered in a historic expansion of Social Security when he signed the Medicare and Medicaid programs into law. 

That signature has saved the lives of millions across the nation. Prior to the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid, about half of Americans over the age of 65 had no health insurance, and a third of those were living in poverty. Then-President Johnson recognized that “greatness required not only an educated people but a healthy people.” Today, nearly all older Americans are covered, in very large part because of these benefits.

There’s no doubt these programs have been successful at making health care more accessible and improving seniors’ quality of life; that’s even more true now as we battle a global pandemic. That’s why I believe they must be not only fiercely defended, but also improved and expanded upon. 

Over my time in Congress, I have focused on the health and economic security of older Northeastern Pennsylvanians by supporting legislation that vigorously expands health coverage, lowers drug prices, and strengthens Social Security benefits.

Affordability: Constituents across our community have shared heartbreaking stories with me detailing their struggles in affording their medication and making decisions between their medications and putting food on the table. Meanwhile, drug prices continue to rise beyond the budget of too many Americans. I helped pass the Lower Drug Costs Now Act out of the House of Representatives. If the Senate would pass this bill it would empower Medicare to negotiate directly with price-gouging pharmaceutical companies to ensure Americans can afford the medications they need. 

Economic Security: As a lead sponsor of the Social Security 2100 Act, I’m working to bolster Social Security payments and ensure they can continue to be paid out to our seniors through to the next century. 

Expansion: I introduced the Help Extend Auditory Relief (HEAR) Act to expand hearing benefits for Medicare recipients. One-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 experience hearing loss, yet Medicare – a program designed for people over 65 – does not cover hearing aids. The ability to hear impacts almost ever facet of a person’s life, and seniors should be able to afford hearing services. My legislation, supported by Democrats and Republicans, would ensure Medicare covers this needed equipment. 

These are sound proposals that give our seniors the support they have earned and will help move America forward. But there are others trying to take us backward. 

Earlier this year, the White House and their supporters backed a $1.4 trillion proposed budget cut to Medicare and Medicaid that would have jeopardized the quality of care for millions. Fortunately, my colleagues and I on the Appropriations Committee swiftly rejected this proposal in this year’s funding bills. They also proposed a policy that would limit federal support for Medicaid and put health care on the chopping block for our most vulnerable citizens. I stood up against that too.

But the fight isn’t over. They say they’ll try again next year if given the chance.

Northeastern Pennsylvania’s seniors should not have to worry about anyone messing with their hard-earned benefits – not during a pandemic, not ever. Instead of turning back the clock 55 years, let’s look forward and strengthen Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.