Medicare: Keeping Us Healthy for 50 Years

Fifty years ago, on July 30, 1965, the landscape of health care in America changed forever when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed landmark legislation giving life to the Medicare and Medicaid programs. As we commemorate Medicare's 50th anniversary, we celebrate the legacy of the program and commit ourselves to keep it strong for current and future generations.

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How have Medicare and/or Medicaid helped your life or the life of someone you care about? You can share your story at Medicare.gov/anniversary.

What is Medicare's legacy? Before 1965, roughly half of all seniors were uninsured. That meant if a person became ill they risked not only the loss of their health, but what little savings they may have had, not to mention their dignity. Although Social Security had been in effect for almost 30 years, nearly one of every three older Americans still lived in poverty.

Today, 50 years on, Medicare provides guaranteed, affordable coverage for roughly 46 million Americans 65 and older and about 11 million people with disabilities. The program has transformed the lives of millions by helping them pay for vital health care services including hospitalizations, physician visits, prescription drugs, and preventive services.

Along with Medicaid, Medicare provides Americans with access to the quality and affordable health care they need to live happy, healthy and productive lives. Over the course of five decades, Medicare and Medicaid have become the standard bearers for coverage, quality and innovation in American health care.

Medicare remains a vital pillar of support for older Americans and those with disabilities—and will likely remain so for as long as illness and injury overtake human beings. Yes, Medicare's golden anniversary is a cause for celebration and reflection. Yet it is also a time to think ahead about how we can ensure that the program continues to fulfill its essential role.

Medicare today faces a number of challenges, including the rising cost of health care and a growing aging population. There are more than one million Medicare beneficiaries in Washington state, and every day, 10,000 U.S. residents are turning 65. By 2030, Medicare will be serving twice as many people as it did in 2000.

Fortunately, there are responsible solutions that can stabilize Medicare for future generations and keep its promise for many years to come. Medicare is constantly transforming to create a health care system that delivers better care, spends health care dollars more wisely, and results in healthier people. We are committed to fostering efforts to keep Medicare strong—not only for today's retirees but for our children and grandchildren.

Doug Shadel



This article was contributed by Doug Shadel, State Director of AARP Washington (left), and John Hammarlund, Regional Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) (right).

John Hammarlund