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Happy Birthday! Medicare and Medicaid Turn 50

April 29, 2015 | Medicare Enrollment
“Happy Birthday,” to one of America’s greatest healthcare achievements, Medicare! Our nation’s federal health insurance program — as well as its sister program, Medicaid — was signed into law on July 30, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

These programs certainly filled a crucial need. Prior to their establishment, America’s seniors were found to be the population group most likely to be living in poverty. In addition, only about half of this group had insurance coverage.

And the anniversary dates don’t end there, as our nation’s Social Security program is turning 80 this year! The Social Security Act was passed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on August 14, 1935. Medicare and Medicaid actually have very close relationships with Social Security.

Yes, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is the agency in charge of the Medicare program. But you actually apply for Medicare through the Social Security Administration (SSA), and this agency determines eligibility for both programs. The SSA also determines eligibility for and payment of Extra Help and Low-Income Subsidy payments, which are related to Part D Medicare (prescription drug coverage). Social Security collects some premium payments for the Medicare program, as well.

Medicare was enacted as Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, while Medicaid was enacted as Title XIX. With their establishment, health coverage became available to almost all Americans aged 65 or older. This included those receiving retirement benefits from Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board.

This passing of this health care coverage also opened up doors for other at-risk populations. These included low-income children deprived of parental support, their caretaker relatives, the elderly, the blind and individuals with disabilities. And as such, this is a very good time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Medicare’s sister program, Medicaid. This joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for those with limited income and resources. Medicaid also pays for benefits not covered by Medicare (nursing home care, personal care services).

When you think about it, the establishment and long-lived success of Medicare are actually amazing achievements. After all, who could argue with reliable, affordable coverage, including that for hospital and medical care, prescription drug coverage and a wealth of private plan options? So, Happy Birthday, Medicare and Medicaid. And here’s to another 50 years, and beyond, of quality healthcare coverage!