Medicare has not only provided access to care for people who could not get private insurance, it has also significantly reduced poverty. As Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, former administrator of HCFA (Now CMS) stated in the preface to A Profile of Medicare in 1998:
Few programs in the history of the United States have brought as much benefit to society as Medicare. Since its enactment in 1965, Medicare has provided access to quality health care for those Americans least likely to be attractive to private insurers – those over age 65, disabled, or with end stage renal disease. Medicare has also prevented many Americans from slipping into poverty. The elderly’s poverty rate has declined dramatically since Medicare was enacted – from 29 percent in 1966 to 10.5 percent in 1995. Medicare also provides security across generations: it has given American families assurance that they will not have to bear the full burden of health care costs of their elderly or disabled parents or relatives at the expense of their young families.
As Medicare turns 50, the Center for Medicare Advocacy is taking some time to look back at our work over the last three decades. While much has changed, many challenges to Medicare, unfortunately, stay the same.
Fifteen years ago the Center, the National Senior Citizens Law Center, and the Consumer Coalition for Quality Care wrote “The public should be informed of the dramatic changes envisioned [for Medicare]… we must remember that the Medicare program is sound, and that it has served our nation’s elderly and disabled well.” This warning is even more critical today, as efforts to privatize Medicare continue, and expand.
We still must vigilantly protect a comprehensive, accessible, traditional Medicare program – the program that has improved the lives of our nation’s neediest populations and their families for 50 years.