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Medicare: 50 Years and Getting Stronger

Medicare is 50 years old this month, and I thought it might be worthwhile to look at some changes that have occurred in health care over this timeframe that, in many cases, have been shaped or directly influenced by the Medicare program: 

  1. Life Expectancy — When Medicare was enacted in 1965, life expectancy at birth was approximately 69.7 years. Today it is 78.7 years. An enormous change! It might be tempting to think that this achievement is because so much progress has been made in the care and treatment of pregnant mothers, newborns and young children, but that is only a part of the picture. There has also been remarkable change in the life expectancy of the senior population. Census data shows that today, life expectancy at age 65 is just over 19 years; that’s 5 years longer than it was 50 years ago. Seniors are living longer, and access to care and treatment through Medicare is the foundation that has made this possible. 
  2. Medical Research and Innovation — It is hard to believe, but very true, that when Medicare was enacted, a heart attack was most likely a fatal event. Today, not only are people able to receive care and recover from heart attacks a great deal of the time, but medicine has actually moved successfully into early detection and prevention!  And cardiovascular disease isn’t the only example. Think of the advancements in cancer, diabetes, and so many other conditions.  Access to health care via Medicare has given older and disabled Americans the ability to live productive full lives, with conditions which previously were likely to have taken their life sooner.
  3. Security — Fifty years ago, Medicare was a solution for seniors who were unable to get coverage for their healthcare needs. As healthcare capabilities have expanded, Medicare has evolved to provide beneficiaries with access to new types of care, procedures, and treatments. Ten years ago, the enactment of Medicare Part D greatly expanded health security by providing beneficiaries with comprehensive coverage for medicines.

Today Medicare is the vehicle upon which people over 65 and those living with disabilities can and do depend for their health security. A 50th anniversary is always a celebration, but Medicare’s 50th Anniversary is particularly worth celebrating for the changes and contributions this program has made to better the lives of older and disabled Americans.