• Rick Tabone

History of Medicare

Originally, the name "Medicare" in the United States referred to a program providing medical care for families of people serving in the military as part of the Dependents' Medical Care Act, which was passed in 1956. President Dwight D. Eisenhower held the first White House Conference on Aging in January 1961, in which creating a health care program for social security beneficiaries was proposed.


In July 1965, under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress enacted Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history. Johnson signed the Social Security Amendments of 1965 into law on July 30, 1965, at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Former President Harry S. Truman and his wife, former First Lady Bess Truman became the first recipients of the program. Before Medicare was created, only approximately 60% of people over the age of 65 had health insurance, with coverage often unavailable or unaffordable to many others, as older adults paid more than three times as much for health insurance as younger people. Many of this group (about 20% of the total in 2015) became "dual eligible" for both Medicare and Medicaid with the passing of the law. In 1966, Medicare spurred the racial integration of thousands of waiting rooms, hospital floors, and physician practices by making payments to health care providers conditional on desegregation.



Medicare has been operating for just over a half-century and, during that time, has undergone several changes. Since 1965, the program's provisions have expanded to include benefits for speech, physical, and chiropractic therapy in 1972. Medicare added the option of payments to health maintenance organizations (HMO) in the 1970s. The government added hospice benefits to aid elderly people on a temporary basis in 1982, and made this permanent in 1984. Congress further expanded Medicare in 2001 to cover younger people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease). As the years progressed, Congress expanded Medicare eligibility to younger people with permanent disabilities who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments and to those with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). The association with HMOs that began in the 1970s was formalized and expanded under President Bill Clinton in 1997 as Medicare Part


C (although not all Part C health plans sponsors have to be HMOs, about 75% are). In 2003, under President George W. Bush, a Medicare program for covering almost all self-administered prescription drugs was passed (and went into effect in 2006) as Medicare Part D.





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