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Medicare Celebrates Golden Anniversary on July 30

President Johnson signs Medicare into law with former President Harry Truman, who was the first recipient of a Medicare card.

Guess what’s turning 50?  For many AARP members who know that milestone well, it’s a program that is invaluable for their health and financial independence.  Medicare turned 50 on July 30. Former President Harry S. Truman received the first Medicare card immediately after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, and since then it has helped redefine “real possibilities” for many Americans, often freeing them from the fear of devastating medical bills that could jeopardize their individual and economic survival.

As we commemorate Medicare’s 50 th Anniversary, it’s essential that we celebrate the legacy of the program and recommit ourselves to fighting to keep it strong for current and future generations.  Prior to Medicare’s existence, those over age 65 without access to an employer’s health plan or a private insurance plan were on their own or dependent on their families when they needed care. Getting sick meant you were at risk for losing more than your health—it could mean the end to your financial independence.

According to the Center for Medicare Advocacy [1], before Medicare was enacted, less than 50 percent of Americans age 65 and older had health insurance and 35 percent lived in poverty. In its first year more than 19 million people enrolled in the program, increasing access to health care by one-third, and reducing poverty in older and disabled Americans by nearly two-thirds.   Medicare, like Social Security and Medicaid, is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs ever enacted in this country, and has greatly increased personal economic security for older people and their families.

Along the way Medicare has had its own milestones; in 1972 it added disability coverage for people with long-term disabilities under 65 years old, and in 1982 hospice coverage was added, helping millions of Americans.  Prescription drug coverage was added in 2006, a tremendous benefit that AARP supported for many years.  In 2010, the Affordable Care Act further improved Medicare by gradually eliminating the “doughnut hole” in prescription drug coverage and adding many preventive measures, among other benefits.

Today, Medicare is a pillar of support for seniors, providing guaranteed, affordable coverage for more than 55 million people, including roughly 46 million who are age 65 and older. The program helps to pay for many vital services, including hospitalizations, physician visits, prescription drugs, and preventive services.

What can’t be ignored is that Medicare faces a number of challenges, including the rising cost of health care and a growing aging population that is living longer than they did in 1965. By 2030, Medicare will be serving twice as many people as it did in 2000.

AARP believes there are responsible solutions that will stabilize Medicare for the future and keep its promise to seniors, including reducing high prescription drug prices; improving the coordination of health care and the use of technology; and cutting out unnecessary testing, excess paperwork, waste and fraud.

Medicare’s golden anniversary is a cause for celebration, but it is also a time for reflection about how we can ensure that this program continues to fulfill its essential role. AARP is committed to fighting for responsible solutions to keep Medicare strong—not only for today’s retirees but also for our children and grandchildren.

[1] Center for Medicare Advocacy, “Medicare:  Improving Access to Health Care Since 1965,” (2015).

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