The War on Poverty launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson included many social programs for American citizens, and among the most profoundly impactful one was Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. Medicare drastically reduced what previously had been a common fear for older people: that they would not be able to obtain healthcare because they could not afford it (The War on Poverty’s Affect on Healthcare Use of the Elderly.) In addition, many of the same people worried that if they suffered from any serious illness that required medical attention, the result could be financial ruin. This paper will support the thesis that the implementation of Medicare has proven to be tremendously advantageous to the elderly population since its inception, and that it is in the country’s best interests to continue providing this program.

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Since its creation, Medicare has extended health care coverage to approximately 93 million elderly citizens, as well as people with disabilities. In addition, it has guaranteed that seniors will be able to receive high quality healthcare while simultaneously receiving protection for their frequently-meager financial resources; these can easily become depleted by the tremendous burden of healthcare expenditures. During the first decade of the 21st century, more than 39 million people enrolled in Medicare; that number is projected to nearly double to 77 million by the year 2030 (Medicare: a Profile.) The population of elderly and disabled beneficiaries of Medicare typically has health needs that are much greater than those associated with the population in general. Due to its influential role as part of the healthcare system in the United States, Medicare has made significant contributions to enhancing that same system.

Because of its guarantee of insurance coverage, Medicare has greatly changed the number of elderly who have health insurance; in 1964, almost 50 percent of all senior citizens had no health insurance, causing them to be the group most likely in America to have health insurance coverage. In 2000, 97% of senior citizens were covered by Medicare, causing obvious benefits to their health and well-being. For example, older citizens have an increased life expectancy in part because of Medicare Part A: a 65-year-old woman on Medicare is expected to live 20 percent longer than her counterpart in 1960 (Medicare: a Profile.) The program provides immediate and significant access to care for the elderly, who are able to receive high quality medical treatment and diagnosis. In 1964, on the average, 194 for every 1,000 senior citizens were discharged from the hospital as compared to 1973, when that number rose to 350 for every 1,000.

Medicare has also significantly improved the quality of life for elderly people, since through extending access to medical procedures including hip replacement, heart surgery, organ transplants, and cataract surgery, the program has allowed millions of elderly citizens to stay healthy for longer periods of time. In addition, it allows senior citizens to participate more thoroughly in the lives of their families and communities (Medicare: a Profile) The financial health of seniors has improved dramatically, because Medicare strives to prevent millions of seniors from living in a state of poverty due to illness or disability. Prior to the program’s inception, elderly citizens were disproportionately poor when compared with the remainder of the population; for example, in 1959, 35.2 of Americans over 65 were living below the poverty line as compared with 17% of those under 65. Currently, only approximately 10% of seniors live below the poverty line. In addition, before Medicare was enacted, seniors paid for just over half of the cost of their health care; their portion declined to 29% in the 1970s and 18% in the late 1990s.

Another benefit for Medicare recipients has related to minority seniors. Before Medicare was passed, many US hospitals discriminated against people of color, denying them access to many facilities and forcing them to depend on substandard hospitals as well as clinics. Because Medicare requires that hospitals accept funding for all patients, it has played a significant role in improving the health status of many people who had previously been ignored by the healthcare system. Finally, another population that has been significantly enhanced by Medicare is Americans living with disabilities as well as people who have end-stage renal disease. Medicare has allowed over 5 million people with these conditions to participate in its program, resulting in a better quality of life for this group as well.

When President Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, only 50% of seniors had health insurance and many others had inadequate coverage (Dowdal .) By contrast, in modern times, one in six Americans have health insurance coverage through Medicare, a number that includes approximately 42 million people over the age of 65 as well as another 8.5 million who are younger but who have some kind of disabling condition or renal disease. The program is invaluable to the public because without it, some of its recipients would be unable to pay for healthcare to address even minor health issues, and would most likely choose to forgo receiving any care. This would result in much more catastrophic illness that would bear tremendous costs for patients physically and financially, and would also affect society as a whole, economically and socially. Although the program clearly must be reformed in order to ensure its long-term survival, it is an essential part of the American healthcare system and has been responsible for improving the physical and emotional quality of life for generations.

  • Dowdal, Tom. “Medicare from the Start to Today.” n.d. National Bipartisan Committee on the Future of Medicare, Medicaid Services. Web. 11 November 2013.
  • “Medicare: a Profile.” 2000. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Web. 11 November 2013.
  • “The War on Poverty’s Effect on Health Care Use of the Elderly.” September 2013. The Russell Sage Foundation. Web. 4 November 2013.