On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Medicare and Medicaid programs that gave millions of older and low-income people access to affordable health care. Today, more than 100 million Americans, almost one out of every three, are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or both. It’s the closest the United States gets to providing universal health care.
Prior to 1965, almost half of all seniors in the United States were uninsured, leaving them essentially without access to quality health care and exposing them to the possibility of catastrophic medical bills. Many health care facilities were segregated by race, and some would not accept African-American patients. Although some inequalities still exist, Medicare and Medicaid removed discriminatory barriers to health care access for African-Americans because if health care facilities wanted to be paid by those programs, they had to accept all patients regardless of race.
Both programs deliver health insurance at a lower cost, including significantly lower administrative costs, than private insurance. In Pennsylvania, more than 2.5 million people – including more than 1.1 million children — receive health care through Medicaid. It’s hard to overstate how important these two programs are to the health, well-being and financial security of older and low-income Americans.
I will turn 65 early next year. I’m looking forward to the peace of mind and savings I’ll get from enrolling in Medicare like I once looked forward to getting my driver’s license when I turned 16. So this evening I’ll raise my glass of medicinal red wine in a heartfelt “happy birthday” toast to Medicare and Medicaid.