By Janice Laue, President
Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans
July 30, 2015, saw the 50th birthday of Medicare, a program that is a cornerstone of retirement security in America. This landmark occasion is the perfect time to examine the legacy of the program and reflect upon the positive impact it has had on the lives and health of our nation’s retirees.
Before President Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, growing older often meant poverty and illness. Only half of our nation’s seniors had health insurance. While some retirees received health coverage through union contracts, millions more faced premiums as much as three times that paid by younger workers. Insurance was a luxury that many seniors simply couldn’t afford.
Older Americans were often faced with a choice between protecting their health and protecting their savings. Would they risk poverty or go without treatment altogether? An estimated one in four retirees used to go without necessary care due to cost concerns. Around one in three seniors lived out their older years in poverty. Many were forced to lean on friends and family to provide care and financial support during times of illness.
After Medicare was signed into law on July 30, 1965, retired workers, regardless of income or health history, had guaranteed health coverage for the first time. Today, seniors across the country are able to see a doctor and fill a prescription because of the Medicare program. Medicare has been so successful that today’s seniors are more likely to have health coverage than any other segment of the population.
The success of the Medicare program is clear. It has vastly improved the quality of life for millions of older Americans. It has kept millions of seniors from being thrown into poverty by the high cost of medical bills. In fact, the poverty rate for seniors has gone down by 75% since Medicare was signed into law. Medicare provides a critical lifeline that protects the health and economic security of our nation’s seniors and their families.
Today, this lifeline is under attack. Some politicians in Washington are pushing to dismantle the Medicare program and roll back the clock 50 years. They want to cut Medicare benefits for seniors, funnel money into the pockets of private insurance companies, and put an end to Medicare’s guaranteed coverage.
The Alliance for Retired Americans is celebrating Medicare’s 50th birthday by bringing attention to its great success and informing current and future seniors on threats to the program. We will educate seniors on the candidates’ positions in the 2016 elections and debunk the misinformation spread by corporate-backed lobby groups, politicians, and commentators.