It’s easy to forget that before 1966, roughly half of all seniors were uninsured, living in fear that the high cost of health care could propel not only them, but their families, into poverty. Few of us remember that not that long ago, far too many disabled people, families with children, pregnant women and low-income working Americans were unable to afford the medical care they needed to stay healthy and productive.
50 years ago, on July 30, 1965, the landscape of health care in America changed forever when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark amendment to the Social Security Act, giving life to the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Since their inception, these bedrock programs have greatly reduced the number of uninsured Americans and have become the standard bearers for quality and innovation in American health care. Fifty years later, no other program has changed the lives of Americans more than Medicare and Medicaid.
Marking the 50 th anniversary of these lifesaving programs this summer gives us an important opportunity to recognize and remember the ways these programs transformed the delivery of health care in the United States. Chances are, you or someone in your family either has Medicare or Medicaid or you know someone who does. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid cover nearly 1 out of every 3 Americans—that’s well over 100 million people. Here in the Garden State alone there are over 1.4 million Medicare beneficiaries and over 1.7 million Medicaid beneficiaries.
Medicare and Medicaid provide Americans with access to the quality and affordable health care they need to live happy, healthy and productive lives. Today, about 55 million Americans depend on Medicare to cover 23 types of preventive services, including flu shots and diabetes screenings (some of these services are free, and for others you have a small copayment or pay the deductible.) This helps ensure cost is no longer a barrier for seniors and people with disabilities who want to stay healthy by detecting and treating health problems early. In New Jersey alone, over 1 million individuals with Medicare used one or more free preventive services in 2014.
President Johnson would be heartened to know that the hard-fought efforts to improve our health care system have not only succeeded, but that America is on track to give even better access, higher quality care and improved health for the next 50 years and beyond.
How has Medicare or Medicaid (or both programs) helped your life or the life of someone you care about? Whether you’ve just enrolled or have been covered for decades, The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services would love to hear from you. You can share your Medicare or Medicaid story through the Medicare.gov website, or connect via Twitter or Facebook.