The Center for Medicare Advocacy’s mission includes advancing equitable access to quality health care. We ground our policy proposals and advocacy in health equity and social determinants of health – recognizing that quality health care for all is key to social justice. On July 30th, in honor of Medicare’s 56th anniversary, we celebrate the incredible achievements of Medicare, including its role in improving health equity.
At the Center’s 2019 National Voices of Medicare Summit and Senator Jay Rockefeller Lecture, we were privileged to host Rep. John Lewis to honor his extraordinary leadership in advancing access to affordable health care and justice for all. Rep. Lewis’ inspirational remarks began with a discussion of how hospital segregation cost people their lives, referring to the shameful period in our history in which access to health care was tied to race, and terrible disparities in quality of care were rampant. This was prior to Medicare’s achievement of integrating hospitals.
As Center for Medicare Advocacy Senior Policy Attorney Alfred Chiplin noted in the Center’s 50 Insights for Medicare’s 50th Anniversary:
“Medicare, in 1965, created an important financial and social change tool toward the integration of hospitals. As a Federal program affecting every hospital in the country, Medicare offered immense financial leverage. Any hospital that wished to be reimbursed by Medicare for the usually-uncompensated care for their oldest, and sickest patients was suddenly subject to the Civil Rights Act. . . the administration used this leverage particularly effectively in opening the door to hospital privileges for African-American physicians, in addition to it being a major tool in creating access to basic hospital and other health care services for African-American citizens throughout the nation, particularly in Southern states.”
Medicare completely changed the landscape of health care access in the United States.
Medicare’s promise is that Americans over 65 and people with disabilities can age with dignity, knowing they will have fair access to affordable health care. Over the last 56 years this promise has become imbedded in our collective understanding of aging. Before the enactment of Medicare in 1965, only 50% of people over 65 had health insurance and 35% lived in poverty. The guaranteed coverage Medicare provides, regardless of income, medical history, or health status, has enhanced the health and financial security of older people and their families. Because of Medicare, virtually all Americans age 65 or older are insured. In 1972, when Congress added Medicare coverage for people with long-term disabilities, it helped provide that same security for a group of individuals who also historically struggled to obtain insurance.
While we honor the profound value of Medicare to our national well-being, we also note improvements that are needed to fully and fairly serve today’s Medicare population. As the Center has outlined in our Medicare Platform, we continue to call for updates to the program – including adding an out-of-pocket cap, expanding Part B to include oral health, reducing barriers to covered care, and increasing low-income protections. At the same time, Medicare must maintain its leadership in identifying and addressing racial disparities and health equity in all Medicare policies and practices.
July 29, 2021 – K. Kertesz