Chants including, “Happy birthday, Medicare! Love it, improve it, expand it to all,” “Medicare, Yes! Insurance company profits, no!” and “Health care for all, it’s a human right!” could be heard outside the UPMC headquarters Downtown as older people, representatives of labor and advocates for single-payer health plans rallied for support of Medicare on Thursday.
The event was organized by the Western PA Coalition for Single-Payer Healthcare and Healthcare 4 All PA to mark the program's 50th anniversary
“There are two reasons we’re here: one is to support Medicare and two is to tell the insurance company that their time is up," said Healthcare 4 All PA member Scott Tyson said. "They have got to go. We need that money to take care of our people. Healthcare is a human right.”
Medicare was launched on July 30, 1965, with Harry Truman as the first beneficiary to receive a card. It was originally conceived as a first step toward covering everyone under a national health insurance program.
Today it covers 51.7 million Americans aged 65 and older, or younger people with permanent disabilities, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We believe that not only is Medicare the best health care system in the United States, but it needs to be expanded," Tyson said. Seventy-nine percent of people believe that Medicare immediately should be dropped down to the age of 55. What we’re here for is to basically support universal healthcare as Medicare for all.”
Almost no one over the age of 65 now has major worries about bankruptcy associated with healthcare, Tyson said. Before, nearly a third had concern with healthcare costs.
The 30-plus rally-goers voiced their opposition to private insurance companies saying patients in traditional Medicare can go to the doctor or hospital of their choice.
“What we need is Highmark and UPMC to get out of the insurance industry so all Americans can have access to quality affordable healthcare," said Mike Plaskon, executive vice president of the local letter carriers union. "Everybody in, nobody out.”
Roslyn Maholland from Crafton marched in the rally and voiced her concerns for younger Americans who have too much money for Medicaid and aren’t old enough for Medicare. Like many others, her only real option is Obamacare.
“It’s not affordable and I can tell you that because even though I work more than 40 hours a week and pay taxes for all the other things, that’s the only insurance I have,” she said.
Marchers walked down Grant Street to 5th Avenue holding sings and banners, ending in front of the Highmark building where they met the “Raging Grannies,” who sang a song.
“Most of us (Grannies) are participants in the Medicare program and it works well for us… I don’t get piles of bills that I have to sort out, [and] I make a small co-payment when I go to the doctors. It’s a great program and we’d like to see it carried out for Medicare for all," said Grannies member Bette McDevitt.
Events marking the 50th anniversary were held in some 70 cities across the country on Thursday.