Published on July 29, 2015

Medicare’s 50th Birthday


By Ann O’Donnell, D.O
Genesis Health System


This calls for a celebration. July 30th marks the 50th birthday of an amendment to the Social Security Act that established the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Over the past 50 years, lives have been saved and more than 100 million people – 1 out of every 3 Americans – benefits from the two programs.
Medicare provides a peace of mind that was missing before President Lyndon Johnson signed the act creating Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The two programs have provided Americans with access to quality, affordable health care. 

Medicare now covers 55 million Americans with access to care, including hospitalizations, lab tests and critical supplies, including prescription drugs.

What many Medicare recipients may not know is that your coverage includes 23 preventive services, including flu shots, colon cancer screening, skin cancer screening and diabetes screenings. As you sign up in the month you turn 65 years old, you are also eligible for a “Welcome to Medicare’’ enrollment physical exam. That is a great opportunity to discuss your health and healthcare goals with your provider.

Certainly there have been factors other than Medicare, but during the 50 years since the inception of Medicare, life expectancy in the United States has increased significantly.  In 1965 when Lyndon Johnson signed the bill, the life expectancy in the U.S. was 70.22 years.  By 2014, life expectancy had risen to a record-high of 78.8 years in the U.S.

What do you have to do when you are about to turn 65? You have to enroll in the program and acquaint yourself with your options.

For initial enrollment, you can enroll beginning three months prior to your 65th birthday.  Enrollment is not difficult.  You can enroll at the local Social Security office, or you can apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare/apply.html.  Online enrollment can usually be completed in 30 minutes or less.  You can also try the toll free number at 1-800-772-1213.

If you have questions, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE.  If you are a senior who uses social media, Medicare questions can be answered there as well.
Medicare benefits have four parts – A, B, C, and D.  Part A is insurance for hospitalizations. The other three parts require premium payments.  Part B helps pay for doctors’ services, outpatient care and other medical services outside the hospital.  Part C is the Medicare Advantage plans available to people who choose to receive all of their health care services from an approved provider.  Part D is prescription drug coverage.

Your health care needs are likely to change from year to year. You can review your choices each year during the open enrollment period from Oct. 15-Dec. 7. During that period, the Genesis Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) volunteers will assist Medicare beneficiaries to find the right plan for their healthcare needs.  You can reach the volunteers at (563) 421-1096 to set up an appointment.

Contrary to what some believe, you don’t have to be retired to receive Medicare benefits. So as you approach your 65th birthday, sign on to the Medicare site and see what benefits are available and which ones pertain to your healthcare goals.

Dr. Ann O’Donnell, D.O., is Medical Director for Genesis VNA, Hospice and Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House.

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