Harry Truman was president when I was born. I was 13 years old on July 30, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson traveled to Independence, Missouri to sign the new law creating Medicare, in the presence of former President Truman, one of the law’s greatest advocates and the program’s first enrollee in 1966.
The data since the law took effect reveal stunning results:
- Before Medicare, less than half of all Americans over age 65 had health insurance. Today, more than 95 percent have health coverage.
- In 1966, 35 percent of Americans age 65 and older lived in poverty. By 2013 that figure had fallen to 10 percent.
- In 1966, the life expectancy at birth for an American man was 66.7 years and 73.9 for a woman. In 2010, it was 76.3 for a man and 81.3 for a woman.
Today, Medicare covers more than 54 million Americans, including 43.5 million people aged 65 and older, and 8.8 million people with disabilities. There are more than 276,000 Mainers enrolled in Medicare, and they represent more than one in five of all Maine citizens.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has greatly expanded coverage for Medicare enrollees:
“The Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare and helps seniors take charge of their health. The law provides important benefits such as free preventive services, free annual wellness visits, and a 50% discount on prescription drugs for Medicare recipients in the coverage gap known as the “donut hole.” And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare is stronger than ever. In 2012, seniors will continue to have access to Medicare Advantage and more affordable prescription drugs through Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (also known as Medicare Part D).
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more seniors and people with disabilities with Medicare are seeing reduced costs — through both discounts on brand-name drugs in the Medicare Part D ‘donut hole’ and a provision in the law that makes preventive services like mammograms and other cancer screenings available for free.”[i]
According to medicare.org, through August 2012, nearly 121,000 Mainers had used at least one free preventive service and nearly 4,000 had saved a total of $1,851,094 through July 2012 when they hit the prescription drug “donut hole.”
And despite what you may have heard, the ACA has actually greatly improved Medicare’s finances. As the Washington Post reported in July 2014:
“Medicare’s financial stability has been strengthened by the Affordable Care Act and other forces that have been subduing health-care spending, according to a new official forecast that says the fund covering the program’s hospital costs will remain solvent until 2030 — four years later than expected a year ago.”
On July 22, 2015, the trustees’ latest report again confirmed that projection.
I turn 64 soon and have already begun to consider what I will need to do next year when I become eligible for Medicare. I want to make sure that I enroll on time to assure that I secure all of the benefits. And I have far-sighted, compassionate leaders like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson to thank for both my health and my economic security. Let’s make sure that our current and future leaders do not undermine their efforts, but like President Obama, build upon them to strengthen and expand this critically important program.