THE BLOG
07/30/2015 04:40 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

Happy 50th Birthday, Medicare!

Medicare turns 50 on July 30th!

On this day in 1965, United States President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark legislation into law. Do you know who were the first Medicare beneficiaries? It was President and First Lady Truman. At the bill-signing ceremony, which took place at the Truman Library, former President Harry S. Truman was enrolled as Medicare's first beneficiary and received the first Medicare card. Johnson wanted to recognize Truman, who had become the first president to propose national health insurance, an initiative that was opposed at the time by Congress.

The signing of the Social Security Amendment of 1965 established the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare is the U.S. federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older. Medicaid is a joint federal-state medical assistance program for people with low income and limited assets, and is a separate program that is run by each state under federal guidelines. Nearly all senior citizens are covered by Medicare and/or Medicaid today. Certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare, too, including those who have disabilities and those who have permanent kidney failure.

Here is a brief history of Medicare in the U.S.,and a Medicare timeline from the The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can get your Medicare benefits through Original Medicare, or via a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO). If you have Original Medicare, the government pays for Medicare benefits when you get them. The majority of beneficiaries are enrolled in Original Medicare that is available anywhere in the U.S.. Based on a fee-for-service model, it allows a covered individual to see any provider that accepts Medicare patients.

Medicare Advantage Plans (sometimes called Medicare "Part C") "are offered by private companies approved by Medicare. Medicare pays these companies to cover your Medicare benefits. If you join such a plan, the plan will provide all of your Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) coverage. According to Kaiser, Medicare Advantage enrollment has continued to grow, despite concerns that reductions in payments to these plans, enacted by the Affordable Care Act, would reduce enrollment. The payment reductions are aimed to reduce historical overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans, relative to traditional Medicare. As reimbursement rate cuts begin to stabilize, Medicare Advantage Plans are faced with a new challenge of further improving the quality of the care they deliver.

Some people may have supplemental coverage, such as a Medigap Plan, to fill in any health-care coverage gaps, or pay a premium for additional benefits.

Medicare helps with the cost of health care, but it does not cover all medical expenses or the cost of most long-term care. (As baby boomers continue to age over the next two decades, the need for long-term care is expected to dramatically increase, but most people aren't prepared financially to pay for it. Having addressed this issue with two parents having needed elder-care assisted living services, the lack of long-term care and people living longer is a huge issue, one that I will discuss in a future blog).

Medicare and Medicaid cover nearly one out of every three Americans. On the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, regardless of your opinion of these entitlement programs, they have dramatically changed the landscape of health-care in the U.S. Hmm. sounds a bit familiar... Affordable Care Act? It is important to look to the future and how the programs need to be improved, and consider what might need to change/evolve to continue helping future beneficiaries with quality and affordable health-care coverage... and keep a balanced budget, too!