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Medicare turns 50

Industry News | Aug 12, 2015

The end of July may have been ordinary for some U.S. citizens, but for many others it was an important anniversary. July 30 marked the 50th anniversary of Medicare being signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The passing of Medicare was one of the largest changes to the health care system at the time, and to this day millions of senior citizens rely on it for affordable health care.

The creation of Medicare didn't happen overnight. It was a long road, from the program's inception to the eventual signing. In between were many agreements and disagreements.

The beginning
The roots of Medicare were arguably planted during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1935, during the midst of the Great Depression, Congress passed and FDR signed into law the Social Security Act. The legislation was created to provide senior citizens and retired workers with many benefits once they exited the workforce. Over the following years, various aspects would be implemented.

Many presidents clamored for a national health platform prior to Medicare. Roosevelt wanted to include health insurance in the Social Security Act, but there was fear the legislation would not pass, thus it was excluded. According to Medicare Resources, Harry S. Truman called for the creation of a health insurance fund, which he wanted to be available to all Americans.

"July 30 marked the 50th anniversary of Medicare being signed into law."

Changing mindsets
Truman's push was unsuccessful. However, the debate surrounding health insurance began to shift after Truman left office. Instead of focusing on health insurance for every American, politicians began to focus on seniors. Rhode Island Representative Aime Forand introduced a piece of legislation in 1957 that later provided the base for Medicare.

A few short years after Forand's proposal, John F. Kennedy also voiced his approval for health insurance for seniors. Medicare Resources said 56 percent of Americans older than 65 years had no insurance at that time.

Kennedy did not live to see further developments. In January 1965, President Johnson urged Congress to pass a health care program under Social Security. Beginning in March and ending in July of the same year, both chambers of Congress passed legislation and sent to the president's desk.

Johnson signed the legislation in Independence, Missouri. Fittingly, Truman - dubbed Health Care Reformer in Chief by The Commonwealth Fund - received the first ever Medicare card and became the first to enroll in the new program. In its first year alone, 19 million Americans signed up for Medicare.

Other important dates
Medicare was originally consisted of two parts: Part A and Part B. Since then, various components have been added and changed. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972, which the Kaiser Family Foundation said was the first major change to Medicare since the original passing. Most notably, eligibility was extended to individuals under 65 who had long-term disabilities.

"In its first year alone, 19 million Americans signed up for Medicare."

Further changes were enacted in the 1980s, and in the 1990s Medicare Part C was introduced. In the early 2000s, President George W. Bush signed the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, which added Part D to a growing list of benefits.

As of late 2014, there are a total of 49.4 million Americans enrolled in Medicare. As baby boomers continue to retire, that number is expected to increase in the coming years.

The path toward a new government health system was long, as many presidents and politicians entered and exited office without anything to show. Those debates arguably helped shaped the eventual signing of Medicare and helped retired Americans rest easy knowing they will have health insurance.