On July 30, Medicare turns 48. And for those 48 years, the program has been a lifeline for many older people across the United States, giving them access to necessary healthcare they might have otherwise not been able to afford or go without.
It was President Lyndon Johnson who signed Medicare into law on July 30, 1965. Before the enactment of Medicare, only 50% of older people age 65+ had health insurance and 35% of Americans over 65 lived in poverty, compared to 17% of those under 65. Medicare was the solution to ensure that no older American would be denied quality healthcare despite an inability to pay or at the expense of losing a lifetime of savings. Without the financial burden of paying healthcare costs for an older family member, Medicare also allowed families to save and invest in their own futures.
The Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) knows well that large numbers of older people of color and LGBT elders nationwide face financial difficulties, making Medicare critically important to their health and economic well-being. Did you know? 46% of Latinos, 43% of Asians, 52% of African Americans over the age of 55 and 92% of American Indians and Alaska Natives are covered by Medicare (based on different studies); and according to a national health study of LGBT older people, almost all (97%) had some form of healthcare insurance coverage, primarily through Medicare. Without Medicare, many older people of color and LGBT elders would be required to pay for health expenses on their own, accrue enormous debts, and likely not receive the health care they need.
But Medicare is in danger and facing real challenges. According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), proposals in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget and various other deficit reduction plans would save money for the federal government by shifting cost to Medicare beneficiaries. These are everyday people already paying high out-of-pocket costs—over half of beneficiaries are living on incomes of just $22,500 or less! They cannot afford to pay more.
Supporters of the proposals mistakenly argue that by shifting these costs, older adults and other beneficiaries will make wiser choices about the health care services they use, or will seek more high-value services. However, research shows that the opposite would likely happen: to deal with the burden of these additional costs could force older people to forego necessary care. This can lead to real consequences, even increasing costs to the federal government rather than saving. Many of our diverse communities already delay seeking health care out of fear of discrimination, or because the health care they need isn’t offered in a way that’s culturally and linguistically appropriate to our communities.
Now is the time to learn—and act. NCPSSM has put together a site for the 48th anniversary of Medicare with resources on this program. Check it out now and learn more about this important program, the proposed changes and how you can help.