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By Marilyn Moon, Institute Fellow, American Institutes for Research
(Center for Medicare Advocacy Luminary)

Medicare is a successful program that is extremely popular with its beneficiaries who rank it higher than others do their private insurance plans.  And polls always show that people are willing to pay more for Medicare.  So why do politicians persist in acting as though Medicare somehow must live within the current spending parameters?

When Medicare was enacted, analysts at the time envisioned that higher taxes would be needed periodically to address the growth in enrollment and higher costs that would be likely.  It was thought to be irresponsible to set initial taxes too high since that would be a drag on the economy.  But the payroll tax rate that goes to Part A has not increased since 1987, when the average cost of the Medicare benefit was much less than what it is today and the number of beneficiaries enrolled was just 60 percent of today’s number. 

Care is needed to make sure that the program is as efficient as possible and that we are getting a good deal for our money, but my insight is that when something works, when you value it highly, you need to be willing to pay for it.  Medicare is covering a larger and larger share of the population—and an even higher proportion of those in our population who are most vulnerable to health problems.  Americans are willing to pay; we just need to get the politicians away from the mantra that it is possible to get something for nothing.

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