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A Brief History of Medicare: Original Medicare

The Beginning

Medicare was signed into law on July 30, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The very first recipients of Medicare were former President Truman and his wife, who had done early work toward federally funded health insurance in the late 1940s during Truman’s presidency.

Health Care for Retired People

1965 marked the beginning of Original Medicare, which consists of Parts A and B. Part A provides hospital insurance while Part B provides outpatient medical insurance. Prior to Medicare becoming law, only about 60 percent of people over the age of 65 had health insurance because insurance companies charged significantly higher rates for older people.

Impact on Civil Rights

Medicare came at the heart of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The law made payments to health care providers contingent on racial integration in waiting rooms, hospitals, and physician offices across the United States.

Evolution Through the Years

Wider Eligibility

Medicare has gone through many changes over the years. When it first was introduced, Medicare only offered care to people over age 65. This has expanded over the years to include people with end-stage renal disease and people who have been on Social Security Disability for more than two years.

Medicare Advantage

A major expansion to Medicare occurred with the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which introduced what would later become Medicare Advantage plans. Read about the history of Medicare Advantage here.

Part D

In 2006, Medicare Part D was introduced by the Bush administration. Medicare Part D introduced coverage of prescription drugs for the first time in the history of Medicare. Prior to 2006, Medicare did not offer any coverage on prescription drugs.  

The Affordable Care Act

The most recent major change to Medicare came with the Affordable Care Act in 2010. While it did not majorly impact Original Medicare, it did influence Medicare programs. For example, it has initiated the gradual reduction of the “donut hole” or coverage gap on Medicare plans that include Part D coverage.

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