After 49 years, Medicaid, Medicare have given dignity to millions

Susan Johnson
OPINION: After decades of failed attempts to provide security and hope to America's seniors and vulnerable people, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid wasn’t just health care reform, it was a turning point in our nation’s history.
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On the 49th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, let's give thanks for security

In 1965, almost half of America’s seniors had no health insurance. For the men and women who survived two world wars and the Great Depression, retirement often meant insecurity and hopelessness. Our nation’s seniors reached their most medically vulnerable years with few, and sometimes no, health care options.

That’s why, after decades of failed attempts to right this wrong, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid wasn’t just health care reform, it was a turning point in our nation’s history.

When he signed that legislation 49 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson spoke for the nation, saying: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”

After a lifetime of contributing so much to our nation, our seniors deserve to be able to live out their years with the dignity, security and the peace of mind that comes with enrollment in Medicare. We can do no less for the millions of vulnerable families, children, seniors and individuals living with disabilities than provide access to quality health care through Medicaid as well.

Today, Medicare and Medicaid are arguably our country’s single most important anti-poverty initiatives. As we celebrate their 49th anniversary, 52 million people are now covered by Medicare and more than 60 million people by Medicaid. According to the most recent statistics available, there are 1,995,624 Medicare and 2,854,808 Medicaid beneficiaries in Region 10. That’s a total of 4,850,432 older, disabled and poor Americans served by these programs in our four states. The Affordable Care Act has further benefited Medicare recipients by helping them save on prescription drugs to fill the “doughnut hole.” These senior and disabled Americans in Region 10 have saved a total of $336,871,241 on needed prescriptions.

More than ever, we are committed to making health coverage more accessible and affordable for all Americans, while continuing to improve the quality of care. We are making significant progress on that commitment and seeing incredible results.

In fact, earlier this week the Department of Health and Human Services reported that Medicare is considerably stronger than it was four years ago when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Medicare is more solvent. It’s more cost effective. And it’s delivering high-quality care for our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Just a few years ago, the Medicare Trust Fund was projected to run out of money by 2017. Now, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, we’ve extended the life of the fund through 2030. Medicare spending per beneficiary is growing slower than the growth in the economy.

For beneficiaries, that means the Trust Fund and their benefits are more secure. For taxpayers, a strong Trust Fund means it will be there in the future for new seniors.

President Johnson once said, “There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.”

Forty-nine years ago, we came together to declare that we, as a nation, owed our parents, grandparents, children and our most vulnerable neighbors better than health uncertainty and insecurity. Our work to keep Medicare and Medicaid strong for all future generations is not over but we remain committed to that sacred promise. Working together, we can ensure that all Americans have the medical care they need to live with the security and dignity they deserve.

Susan Johnson is U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regional director, Region 10.

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