If you ask an older adult today what his or her primary health insurance is, you’ll get an almost universal answer: Medicare. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, it was Theodore Roosevelt who first introduced the idea of national health insurance during his campaign for president in 1912.
However, we’ve come a long way since then! In fact, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare (and Medicaid). Read on for more fun facts about the impact of Medicare on senior health — in the past and the present.
The Milestones of Medicare
Although Roosevelt was among the first to take the issue of national healthcare seriously, the idea didn’t come to the fore until decades later. On November 19, 1945, seven months into his presidency, Harry S. Truman requested that Congress create a nationwide funding for health insurance. Truman dreamed of a program that would pay for a patient’s doctor and hospital visits, labs, dental care, and more. But despite Truman’s best efforts, it would take twenty years before such a program came into being.
After Roosevelt, President John F. Kennedy also made an attempt to bring national health care for seniors. He undertook this mission after a large-scale study showed that more than half of Americans over 65 had no health insurance. Unfortunately, like Roosevelt, Kennedy failed to see his dream of comprehensive coverage realized.
Finally, things took a turn for the better in 1965 with Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency. On July 30, President Johnson signed Medicare law into law with H.R. 6675. This was an amendment to the already-existing Social Security Act. During the signing ceremony, former President Truman was given the first Medicare card, bringing his dream of national coverage full circle. At that time, Medicare had a budget of $10 billion, and 19 million people signed up for the program in the first year alone. Finally, Americans could live longer, healthier lives with more peace of mind than ever before — and at an affordable price!
Medicare Marches On
It would be a mistake to think that Medicare began and ended with its initiation fifty years ago. Instead, numerous changes and additions have been made over the decades:
1972: President Richard M. Nixon signs the first major change to Medicare into law. This expands coverage to include those under 65 with long-term disabilities and/or ESRD (End-Stage Renal Disease).
1980: Congress passes the Omnibus Reconciliation Act, which expands home health care services under Medicare and mandates federal oversight of Medigap (Medicare supplement insurance).
1982: Medicare begins covering hospice services for the terminally ill.
The 1990’s: More options for Medicare coverage are offered on the private market through Medicare Part C. Originally called “Medicare+Choice,” these options include add-ons such as prescription drug coverage to the newly-enrolled.
The 2000′s: Medicare Part D is introduced in 2003, offering a prescription drug benefit to all qualifying Medicare members.
2010: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is introduced and includes numerous reforms to make Medicare more comprehensive, more affordable, and easier to use.
As of 2014, there were almost 50 million Americans on Medicare[1. “Total Number of Medicare Beneficiaries,” 2014, https://kff.org/medicare/state-indicator/total-medicare-beneficiaries/]. If you know someone enrolled in Medicare, they probably use it to cover services such as hospital stays, lab tests, durable medical equipment (like wheelchairs and walkers), and medications. Medicare also offers a wide range of preventive services, including flu shots, diabetes screenings, and more. The majority of these services are free or low-cost.
Medicare and the Future of Senior Health
It’s impossible to predict what Medicare will mean for the future of senior health. However, if it’s anything like it’s been in the past, you can expect positive results! As additional baby boomers are set to retire, Medicare will likely be more important than ever when it comes to health care services. You and loved ones can even share stories about how Medicare has changed your life[2. “Share Your Story,” https://www.medicare.gov/anniversary/share-your-story.html] through the program’s website. Whatever the future may bring, let’s raise our glasses to another fifty years (or more) of Medicare!
If you would like information on how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help and share information regarding the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.