Medicare and Medicaid Looking Good at 50

Like so many Americans, I am now in that phase of life with aging parents. My dad has advanced Alzheimer’s. Though he’s still living at home and mom does a great job taking care of him, he needs full-time professional care during the day and frequent medical attention. Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking disease and we’re all doing the best we can to deal with the stress. I can’t imagine just how much more stressful dad’s condition would be for him and our family if he didn’t have Medicare.

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed legislation creating the landmark Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare protects the health of America’s elderly population. And Medicaid is the lifeline for health services for low-income adults, kids, people with disabilities and pregnant women.

How important have these programs been?

Let’s start with Medicare. Before 1966, roughly half of all seniors were uninsured, living in fear that health care costs could drag their families into poverty. Today about 55 million Americans rely on Medicare to cover preventive services, hospital stays and prescription drugs. Before Medicare, 35 percent of people ages 65 and over lived in poverty.

What about Medicaid?
• Medicaid provides prenatal care and delivery coverage for over half the babies born in Texas.
• The program is the sole source of health care coverage for most Texans born with serious disabilities or illnesses, as well as those who acquire a disability early in their lives.
• Most Texas low-income adults with disabilities – including those with serious mental illness or intellectual disabilities – receive health benefits from Medicaid.

Improvements in Texas Medicaid and its popular partner program the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) have cut the uninsured rate for Texas kids in half over the last 20 years. In May 2000, before CHIP, just under 1 million Texas kids had Medicaid. Today 3.3 million kids are covered between Medicaid and CHIP.

The resounding success and admirable longevity of Medicare and Medicaid are one of the great policy successes of our country’s history. And policy solutions like these critical health care programs give me hope that Texas and the United States can continue to enhance and adopt policies that build a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated and financially secure.

The best step Texas leaders can take toward a healthier, more financially secure Texas is to close the health care Coverage Gap to protect more people. Texas can take something that is working and make it even better, bringing another million Texans under the umbrella of health care coverage.

True fiscal conservatives should appreciate the efficiency of Medicaid relative to other ways of insuring Texans. Medicaid has historically low administrative costs, and Medicaid spending has grown much slower than private insurance.

As we honor the 50th anniversary of two game-changing health care programs, I am personally grateful for Medicare. Our family can focus on caring for dad rather than worrying about financial stability.

Written by Ann Beeson, Center for Public Policy Priorities. Cross-posted from the Better Texas blog.

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