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"50 years of Medicare, Medicaid, Older Americans Act Benefits"- Important Op-Ed in Today's Bangor Daily News

Check out today's Op-Ed in the Bangor Daily News, 08/13/2015:
http://bangordailynews.com/2015/08/12/opinion/contributors/50-years-of-medicare-medicaid-older-americans-act-benefits/

By Jessica Maurer, the executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Rich Livingston, AARP Maine’s volunteer state president. 

Mainers had a lot to celebrate this July.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law legislation that created Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. Since 1965, each has served to protect the health and well-being of millions of American families, providing preventive and life-saving health care and other services to help older people live in their homes and communities as long as possible. Each has helped to stabilize and improve the economic health and security of Mainers and our nation.

The Older Americans Act created networks and programs to help older Americans gain access to information, benefits counseling, home-delivered meals, legal services, family caregiving supports, advocacy and other critical community services to help them age at home. The Maine network includes five Area Agencies on Aging that have served older adults for more than 40 years. Each year, the AAAs provide assistance to more than 130,000 older Mainers, including help for more than 20,000 older and disabled adults so they could enroll in Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare provides certain health care services to older adults and serves about 276,000 people in Maine, mostly age 65 or older and others with disabilities. Medicaid was created for adults with low income, the elderly and people with disabilities. Both served as basic health coverage programs but have evolved over time to improve access to affordable health care. It’s no surprise a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found a majority of the public and program beneficiaries view Medicare and Medicaid programs positively.

Medicare Part A covers hospital services and Part B covers outpatient services, including preventive care and visits to the doctor to treat medical conditions. Part D, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, went into effect in 2006. The Kaiser survey shows a strong majority of voters view Medicare as very important and working well for most seniors.

Medicaid, known here in Maine as MaineCare, also is a critically important program for older Mainers. MaineCare not only served more than 300,000 low-income Mainers last year, including working parents, children, pregnant women and disabled adults, but also paid for critical assisted living and nursing home care and helped tens of thousands more with their Medicare premiums or prescription drugs.

Each of these programs serves Americans well and keeps older adults, their caregivers and families healthier, enabling them to live at home and in their communities longer.

MaineCare and Medicare have evolved over the time. Medicare Part D, for example, was added to help address high prescription drug costs many seniors face. More recently, the Affordable Care Act set funding aside for states to provide health coverage to low-income people, most of whom work in food service, personal care services or in building maintenance positions. Providing coverage to these workers is important as Maine’s workforce ages and people work longer — and it would help keep our workforce healthier and reduce overall health care costs over the long run.

As we recognize the importance of these programs in meeting the needs of millions across the country, including thousands in Maine, we should keep in mind those who still struggle to get the health care and services they need. Like other states, we not only should celebrate but work to take advantage of opportunities these programs provide in helping meet those needs.

Photo Credit: George Danby | Bangor Daily News

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