As students head back to campus and election season moves into full swing, young voters will be in the spotlight. While Medicare has been at the forefront of national discourse, in the media and on the campaign trail, much of the discussion has neglected young Americans under the assumption that they aren't affected by, or don't care about, Medicare's future and the impact of Medicare in their communities.
The truth is that Medicare plays a critical role in young people's lives and those of their families, now and in the future.
Expect Medicare: Medicare is Not Broke
The Medicare Trustees Report shows Medicare is currently fully funded to pay out expected costs until 2024, when it will still be able to pay 75% of costs. According to researchers from the Urban Institute, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Medicare's purported dire financial condition is not supported by the facts. Given the aging of our population, increases in enrollment have obviously contributed to spending growth. But, according to the Urban Institute, "in recent years… spending growth per enrollee slowed in Medicare and Medicaid, and per-enrollee growth rates in the next decade are projected to be very close to the expected growth in [Gross Domestic Product] per capita. These data do not support the need for major restructuring of either program."
In short, contrary to repeated assertions, Medicare is not broke, going "bankrupt," or running out of funds. Further, Medicare provisions in the Affordable Care Act have improved Medicare's economic outlook − extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by eight years.
The real problem that needs to be addressed is rising overall health care costs. Overall healthcare expenditures per capita in the United States are higher than in any other country, and, except as noted above for Medicare and Medicaid, show no signs of slowing. Addressing U.S. health system costs in general is the only real solution to addressing our nation's long-term fiscal issues.
Young Americans and their families are harmed by buying into the false argument of Medicare's fiscal demise. While solutions are needed to improve and strengthen the program, young people should fully expect to receive Medicare and should engage in the current discussion over its future in order to protect it.
Medicare is Not Just for Seniors
While Medicare delivers guaranteed benefits and access to coverage for Americans 65 and older, the program also provides health benefits to seven million Americans under 65 who have become disabled or suffer from severe chronic conditions. When people with disabilities are unable to work, they often lose access to their employer-sponsored insurance, the principal source of coverage for people under 65. For those eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicare provides people with disabilities with the life-saving access to care they need.
Young People Have Family Members Who Rely on Medicare
Most young people have family members who currently rely on Medicare for health insurance, access to health care and financial protection. Without Medicare, many of these family members would be unable to afford physicians or obtain their necessary prescription drugs. Medicare has grown into the popular community program it is today because of the peace of mind it brings to those who rely on it as a health and economic lifeline.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy hears from many individuals under 65 who either lack health insurance, or have inadequate coverage, often inquiring as to how they might obtain Medicare coverage before age 65. These individuals eagerly await their Medicare eligibility, when many finally receive the needed health care they could not otherwise afford to get. People with Medicare are less likely than those with private insurance to report going without care because of cost, and are also less likely to report problems paying medical bills. They are also far less likely than those with employer-sponsored or individual coverage to spend over 10% of their incomes on health related costs. The changes in the Budget introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and now the Republican vice presidential candidate, would, on the other hand, actually harm current beneficiaries, and completely end Medicare as we know it for those under 55 – decimating a critical American value.
Proposals to Cut and End Medicare Hurt Young People and Families
The Ryan Budget seeks to turn Medicare over to private insurance companies and replace the program with a system of individual, capped vouchers. The Congressional Budget Office and leading economists have stated that the Ryan plans would increase out-of-pocket costs and restrict certain benefits, while leaving beneficiaries on their own with fewer choices and without critical consumer protections. Younger people would shoulder further responsibility for their parents' and grandparents' health care costs at a time when they are also starting their careers, starting families, and dealing with ever-increasing student loan debt.
Proposals Put Health and Financial Futures of Young Americans at Risk
Younger people work or expect to work and pay into the Medicare system that helps ensure their security when they need it. The Ryan Budget would increase by two years the age of eligibility for Americans to access the program they have paid into. This proposal would particularly hit hard-working and vulnerable communities with wide health-disparities, including Hispanics and African-Americans. In addition, turning the Medicare program into a privatized voucher system would mean higher co-pays, premiums, and fees once a person actually became eligible for Medicare. While private insurance companies would reap windfalls from taxpayer dollars, young Americans would likely pay more to get less.
Medicare is not a seniors-only issue. Young Americans, who cite health care as the number two issue behind jobs on their minds this election, have a huge stake in what policy-makers do with Medicare. Instead of investing and using innovative approaches to strengthen Medicare and tackle the real issue of rising health costs overall, young Americans could be left with an uncertain and expensive privatized system that hands their care over to private insurance companies.
To help voters understand their candidates' positions on Medicare and health care, the Center for Medicare Advocacy has created a list of "Ten Questions to Ask Your Candidate." Whether aged 25 or 65, Americans benefit from the security that Medicare provides for families, and should know the facts to protect it for millions of current and future beneficiaries.
 See, e.g. our recent Alert http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/2012/04/26/fact-vs-fiction-medicare-is-not-going-bankrupt/.
 The Urban Institute, "Medicare and Medicaid Spending Trends and the Deficit". New England Journal of Medicine. Available online at: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1204899
 Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, "Medicare is Not Bankrupt". Available at: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3532.
 Kaiser EDU, available at; http://www.kaiseredu.org/Issue-Modules/US-Health-Care-Costs/Background-Brief.aspx.
 National Women's Law Center, Fact Sheet: "The Importance of Medicare for Women." Available at: http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/the_importance_of_medicare_for_women_factsheet_08-29-12.pdf.
 Center for Medicare Advocacy, "How the Ryan Budget (and Republican Platform) Would Hurt Current Nursing Home Residents," available at: http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/2012/08/30/how-the-ryan-budget-and-republican-platform-would-hurt-current-nursing-home-residents/. See also "Medicare Under Threat: Health Reform Versus the Ryan Budget," available at: http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/2012/04/05/medicare-under-threat-health-reform-versus-the-ryan-budget/.
 Amy Davidoff and Richard Johnson, "Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age: Effects on the Young Elderly," Health Affairs. Available at: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/22/4/198.full.