Medicare Celebrates 48 Years ~ Let’s Keep this Important Program for Future Generations

Medicare Celebrates 48 Years ~ Let’s Keep this Important Program for Future Generations

July 30th marks Medicare’s 48th birthday. This is an important day to celebrate and appreciate Medicare, especially as we face many Congressional proposals to change Medicare, cut benefits and shift costs to beneficiaries. With this anniversary, we can reflect on how far we’ve come and the essential benefits Medicare provides for 50 million Americans, a number that is expected reach close to 80 million by 2030.

Looking back to when President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, only 50% of seniors had health insurance and 35% lived in poverty. Today 1 in 6 Americans are covered by Medicare, including 42 million people age 65 or older and 8.5 million who are younger than 65 with a disability. Millions of beneficiaries have been lifted out of poverty and now have a safety net they rightly earned. President Truman’s statement, made when he first proposed Medicare legislation in 1945, still stands true today: Medicare provides “health security for all…regardless of residence, station or race, everywhere in the United States.”

A few interesting facts demonstrating Medicare’s effectiveness include:

  • 1 million people enrolled in Medicare within the first week of its commencement
  • Only 56% of elderly had hospital insurance before Medicare, whereas 97% of elderly had hospital insurance after Medicare (1970)
  • The number of elderly living in poverty dropped by half within 10 years of Medicare’s commencement (in 1975)

The number of Medicare beneficiaries has risen to >50 million in 2012, up from 21 million in 1970. Fifty percent of beneficiaries have annual incomes below $22,000 and savings of less than $77,500. Without Medicare, some beneficiaries would not be able to afford health care to treat even a minor health incident or condition, much less a major one, and would likely go without care.

Join us in celebrating Medicare’s 48 years of providing essential health coverage for all beneficiaries! A few ideas include:

  • Learn the history of Medicare through the Kaiser Family Foundation’s short 7-minute video. It provides a visual timeline of Medicare’s enactment and numerous modifications since 1965, including the addition of a prescription drug benefit in 2006 and the improvements with the Affordable Care Act.
  • Learn about the debates in Congress to reduce Medicare benefits, add cost-sharing to beneficiaries and the significant risks these proposed changes may have on the Medicare program and beneficiaries by >reading our press release and Congressional testimony. Viable solutions to extend the solvency of the Medicare program lie in addressing the real problem of rising health care costs in our country. Some solutions include eliminating wasteful spending on drugs, medical equipment and private health plans, and building on the efficiencies of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
  • Contact your Congress men and women and share with them the importance of keeping Medicare’s benefits intact.

By reflecting on the benefits Medicare gives millions, engaging in the discussion on how Medicare will be offered in the future, and contacting our Congress people to share our views and concerns, we strive to uphold Medicare for future generations and keep alive the original vision of providing health security for all. Happy Birthday Medicare!

Karen Fletcher
Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.

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