Ohio’s senior U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown spoke to reporters Wednesday on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, two of the nation’s most important and historic social safety net programs, signed into law on July 30, 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Sen. Brown, who spent years as a congressman before being elected senator in 2006 and again in 2012, announced support for a new proposal that could help improve Medicare by driving down the high cost of prescription drugs for seniors.

Medicare Prescription Drug Savings and Choice Act

According to a new Medicare Trustees report, the cost of Part D Drug Coverage has risen about 10.9 percent this year due primarily to new and specialty drugs. Up for reelection in 2018 and the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Ohio, Sen. Brown offered remarks on a new bill—Medicare Prescription Drug Savings and Choice Act—designed to increase access to more affordable prescription medications for seniors. Brown’s bill would allow seniors to enroll in a Part D prescription drug plan administered by Medicare instead of a private insurance company. A big restriction on Medicare, imposed and guarded by Republicans over the years, has kept the program insuring 55 million beneficiaries from negotiating the best prescription medication for seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D at the best prices.

In separate news, Sen. Brown and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) sent a letter urging the 19 states that have not yet decided to expand Medicaid to do so in order to give more than four million additional Americans access to affordable. “In the past half century, these programs have prolonged and enhanced the lives of millions of Americans. Extending access to health care for America’s most vulnerable ranks among the greatest public health accomplishments in our nation’s history,” the letter said.

On the call today was Belle Likover, who for the last 25 years has lived in Shaker Heights, a Cleveland suburb. At age 95, she said she’s quite healthy and has only been in the hospital to have children. Then four years ago, and now twice in fourth months, she’s been hospitalized for five days each time. She said brand names drugs are increasing at a rate of 300 percent, and charges she incurred in 2011 amounted to a staggering sum of over $66,000. “Without Medicare I would be in debt for the rest of my life. It gives us knowledge that no matter what happens to us with respect to our health, we will be taken care of. Make it stronger, not weaker,” she said.

Sen. Brown, who’s been a strong advocate for workers and consumers through his political career, is also one of the senate’s most outspoken advocates for strengthening Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He has advocated for bringing Medicare to those 55 years of age and beyond.

Asked about competition driving prices lower, Sen. Brown quipped, “It may work in the classroom, but it’s not working in the real market place.” That’s why, he said, “we know we can save billions for taxpayers and seniors, if Medicare can negotiate prices. Medicare is not there to make a profit, the purpose of insurance companies is to make a profit.” He reminded reporters that administrative costs for Medicare are in the low single digits while administrative costs for profit insurances companies could be ten percent or higher.

Proposals don’t move forward, Brown said, because drug companies are so powerful, only rivaled by Wall Street and the National Rifle Association. Belle added what everyone who’s ever been sick realizes, “health care is not a commodity but a vital service.” President Johnson echoed Belle’s sentiment 50 years ago, when he said the promise of Medicare was to extend “the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor.”

Wilbur J. Cohen and Robert M. Ball, the first the Social Security commissioner and the second a top official at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under Johnson, recognized that private insurance was unaffordable to many older and low-income Americans, according to the New York Times. Cohen and Ball understood affordable coverage in the commercial market wasn’t affordable to these populations. “They believed that commercial health insurance had failed the elderly, and they wanted to replace it with social insurance, as a first step toward similar coverage for the rest of the population,” Theodore R. Marmor, a Yale professor and historian of Medicare, said, as reported by Robert Pear of the Times.

Brown Down On Kasich Agenda

Now that Gov. John Kasich is in the GOP race for president, his main claim is he’ll take “Heartland” principles and apply them to Washington politics. Few know Ohio as well as Sen. Brown, so when I asked him to tell me what Gov. Kasich has done for Ohio that’s so good it should be done in Washington, he said he likes Kasich, personally, but immediately pivoted to what he doesn’t like.

“I don’t want Kasich’s trade policies, Kasich wants to do more of the same, I don’t want his attacks on working families, I don’t want more tax breaks for the rich,” he said, adding that wages have grown slowly under the governor while workers don’t have representatives like corporations do. “Workers are falling out of the middle class, and I don’t want John Kasich to bring those views to the whole country.”

 

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