July 29, 2010
Forty-five years ago today, the creation of Medicare transformed our health-care system and our nation. It helped to make us a stronger and more prosperous country by freeing older Americans from the fear that sickness or injury would cost them their lifetime savings and security.
Before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, the prospect of getting older often brought with it the cruel threat of poverty. Most Americans lost their health insurance when they retired and saw their access to health care decrease with their incomes. Nearly half of all seniors had no coverage at all.
Medicare changed all that. Within a year of its creation, 19 million Americans had enrolled. Seniors quickly went from being one of the most vulnerable groups in our nation when it came to health-care coverage to the most secure.
But our work didn’t end when Medicare was first enacted in 1965. In its earliest years, the program covered basic hospital care for patients 65 and older and provided supplementary coverage for physicians’ visits. It didn’t cover physical therapy, hospice care, services in rural clinics and many other critical benefits.
The reason we have the Medicare we have today is that over the last 45 years, we have repeatedly acted to strengthen and update it for changing times.