Medicare: 50 Years and Counting

On November 19, 1945, seven months into his presidency, President Harry S. Truman sent a message to Congress, calling for creation of a national health insurance fund, open to all Americans. Truman fought to get a bill passed during his term but was unsuccessful.

President John F. Kennedy also made an unsuccessful push for a national health care program for seniors after a national study showed that 56 percent of Americans over the age of 65 were not covered by health insurance. But it wasn’t until 1965 – after legislation was signed by President Lyndon B Johnson – that Americans started receiving Medicare health coverage.

The Medicare and Medicaid programs were signed into law on July 30, 1965. President Lyndon B Johnson signed the bill into law at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri at the Truman Library.  Former President Truman was at the event seated beside him.  LBJ held the ceremony there to honor President Truman’s leadership on health insurance. President Harry S. Truman was enrolled as Medicare’s first beneficiary and received the first Medicare card. 

Since 1965, a number of changes have been made to Medicare programs. President Richard Nixon signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972 into law which expanded Medicare to include the disabled receiving Social Security benefits, after a 24 month waiting period, and those with end-stage renal disease.

Another significant legislative change to Medicare–called the Medicare Modernization Act or MMA–was signed into law by President George W. Bush, on December 8, 2003. This historic legislation added an outpatient prescription drug benefit to Medicare which makes prescription drugs more affordable for Medicare recipients.

Fifty years later and Medicare is still evolving. If you have questions about Medicare or Social Security you can get help, free of charge, from the benefits counselors at the Area Agency on Aging of Deep East Texas.  They can be contacted through 2-1-1 or by calling(800) 256-6848.