Dayton, Ellison celebrate Medicare’s 50th birthday with Minnesota Nurses

Nurses celebrated Medicare's 50th birthday with PIE, symbolic of the union's call to "protect, invest and expand" the popular health care program.

Nurses celebrated Medicare’s 50th birthday with PIE, symbolic of the union’s call to “protect, invest and expand” the popular health care program.


web.MNA-Medicare-nursesMedicare turned 50 years old yesterday, and Minnesota nurses celebrated by throwing President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landmark legislation a barbecue birthday bash in St. Paul.

More than 100 million people are enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid, which provides health care to low-income Americans and also turned 50 yesterday. Together, the programs ensure seniors maintain health coverage after retiring and children receive the health care they need to avoid falling behind.

“Health care is a truly patriotic issue tied to our freedom,” Minnesota Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Roach said. “Are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness really possible when you don’t have your health?”

Doctors, patients and elected officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, joined nurses in pledging to protect Medicare – and expand the popular health care program into a single-payer health plan covering all Americans.

“I don’t know if we’ll see single payer in my lifetime,” Dayton said. “But if we do, I hope it starts here in Minnesota.”

Rep. Ellison speaks at the nurses' celebration of Medicare's 50th anniversary.

Rep. Ellison speaks at the nurses’ celebration of Medicare’s 50th anniversary.

Ellison, a DFLer from Minneapolis, said he was proud to have supported the Affordable Care Act, passed during President Obama’s first term. “But deep down and in my heart of hearts,” Ellison added, “I have been and will always be a single payer person.”

The ACA increased access to the private health insurance market and allowed states, including Minnesota, to expand Medicaid eligibility for the working poor, extending coverage to an estimated 16.4 million Americans over the last 5 years.

But even in Minnesota, people are slipping through the cracks of the private insurance market. That’s why Ellison said he supports the American Health Security Act, introduce by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) in March. It would allow states to administer their own universal health insurance systems, subject to federal standards.

Ellison and Dayton agreed that the bill would empower Minnesota to set a course toward single payer, universal health care – one the rest of the nation could follow.

“That’s how Canada ended up with single payer,” Ellison said. “It wasn’t just one big national plan. It was Ottawa, then Saskatchewan, and it spread.”

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