Throughout its 50 year history, it would appear that overall, Medicare has been a success. The program was originally signed into law back in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. Since that time, the program covers approximately one-third of all Americans, and it accounts for $4 of every $10 that is spent on health care in the United States.
Its original intent was to help close the “gap” in health care coverage for retirees back in the time when insurance was provided almost exclusively by employers. Over time, Medicare has been widely expanded to cover many more people. For example, Congress extended the program to cover those who are permanently disabled, as well as those who have advanced kidney disease (end stage renal disease). It has also added prescription drug coverage, helping millions of seniors obtain needed prescription medications at a fraction of the cost that they would otherwise have to pay out-of-pocket.
Before Medicare came into existence, only about half of Americans over age 65 had health insurance. One of the primary reasons for this was because coverage for individuals in this age category was unaffordable. Because of this, roughly one in four seniors went without medical care at all due to cost issues.
By making care available to more people, Medicare has essentially advanced the effort to not just treat illness and disease, but to also deliver more preventive care and to address more issues before they become acute.
Today, only 2 percent of Americans over 65 are uninsured – and, according to analysts, Medicare has even helped to increase the life expectancy for Americans over age 65 by five years. Those who are on Medicare today are much less likely to go without medical care, as well as to have medical bills that are unmanageable. So for many American seniors, Medicare has been a true success.
In addition to benefitting consumers, Medicare has also provided a great deal of public benefit as well. The funds from Medicare that continue to flow in to doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers have helped to keep care available for all Americans – while at the same time also allowing necessary financing for improvements in both medical technology and treatments.
Because of this success, seniors have reported a greater overall satisfaction with their health care coverage, as well as their access to care. Many seniors have even rated Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B) higher in terms of quality and care access as compared to Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) plans.
While Medicare has been considered a success, there is still much more that can be done. For example, health care spending can be made more efficient – and more oriented towards preserving one’s health rather than towards merely treating ailments. This can include allocating more tasks to physicians’ assistants and nurses, placing even more focus on preventive care, and encouraging more use of advance directives.
Reduced spending can be accomplished by focusing on better use of electronic health records data, as well as ceasing to perform unnecessary testing of patients and providing unwanted care.
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