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Medicare, Medicaid observe 48 years

July 30, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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The Medicare and Medicaid programs certainly have had their share of detractors since they were signed into law 48 years ago today. Some organizations and individuals say that the programs are too expensive or unnecessary, or that they shift too many costs to the private sector or administer benefits in ways not originally intended. On their collective “birthday,” however, some nonprofit organizations and an expected government agency are singing the programs’ praises.

Through the two programs, millions of Americans are living lengthier, more healthful lives thanks for access to basic health coverage and advanced technologies, according to the nonprofit National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). The group cites statistics that 10 percent of senior citizens live in poverty today but that the percentage was 35.2 in 1959. Seniors also now pay substantially less out of pocket for their healthcare than they did before Medicare was enacted, NAELA maintains.

Medicare has improved under the Affordable Care Act, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

HHS, under which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services operates, says that more than 6.6 million people with Medicare insurance have saved more than $7 billion, or an average of more than $1,000 per beneficiary, on prescription drugs in the Medicare Part D “donut hole” as a result of the ACA. In addition, in the first six months of this year, 16.5 million people with traditional Medicare coverage obtained at least one preventive service at no charge to them.

HHS characterizes Medicare spending growth from 2010 to 2012 as “historically low,” increasing at a per-beneficiary rate of 1.7 percent annually, slower than the average growth rate for the Consumer Price Index and the per-capita growth rate of the overall economy.

Medicaid provides health coverage to 57 million people, Sebelius said via a press release. That total includes more than 4.6 million low-income seniors, nearly all of whom are also enrolled in Medicare, and 27.8 million children. The ACA authorizes and provides funding to states to extend Medicaid coverage to adult Americans aged fewer that 65 years with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The act also aims to improve the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund until at least 2026, nearly a decade longer than projected at the time of the law’s passage in 2010, according to Sebelius.

The AARP has posted a history of Medicare on its website.

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