Medicare celebrates 50 years!

Medicare was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, on July 30, 1965. Standing by his side as he signed the legislation were former President Harry S. Truman and his wife Bess. President Truman had first tried to enact legislation which would ensure health care for all Americans in 1945, but it would take 20 years and many negotiations for Medicare to finally become law. Today Medicare covers 55 million people and provides insurance for one in six Americans.

Medicare has changed many times since 1965. Hospice care was not covered until 1984, for instance. Medicare D, which provides coverage for prescriptions, did not go into effect until 2006, and continues to be modified to ensure that beneficiaries are able to afford needed prescription medication. Today’s Medicare beneficiaries can choose from a traditional Medicare plan which includes pars A, B and D, or they can choose a Medicare Advantage plan. In our area, Kaiser Permanente is a popular Medicare Advantage plan and it includes some benefits which are not offered by traditional Medicare, such as limited dental and vision coverage. To better understand the options open to you or a family member, you can call Medicare (1-800-MEDICARE) or go to their website, www.Medicare.gov. You can also consult your local Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) office. Every county in Maryland has a SHIP office staffed with both volunteers and trained staff to advise callers on the options open to them. In Montgomery County the number is 301-590-2819 and Prince George’s County call 301-265-8471 or 301-265-8450. As Aging Life Care™ Managers, we are happy to work with our clients and their families and help them review and better understand their Medicare and secondary insurance benefits, and possibly to make changes during open enrollment season, October 1 through December 7. Any changes made during the open enrollment season go into effect on January 1, 2016.

As the baby boom generation turns 65 and begins to enroll in ever-increasing numbers, Medicare will face new challenges. Today’s 65 year old has an average life expectancy of an additional 20 years, but 7 out of 10 of baby boomers will need assistance for at least three of those years with activities of daily living. Another challenge is educating enough geriatricians to care for an aging population. Despite the increase in the number of Americans age 65 and older, the number of geriatricians has remained flat for more than ten years. New Medicare regulations are aimed at reducing hospital readmissions and Montgomery County is hoping to be one of the sites chosen for a pilot program to improve care coordination services for our county’s seniors. With more seniors a part of the digital age, Medicare now offers paperless statements to beneficiaries. As Congress seeks to keep the cost of healthcare in balance, other changes are sure to come. In a future blog I will write about robotic caregivers—so stay tuned!