Medicare, together with Medicaid, has fundamentally reshaped the American landscape by expanding access to lifesaving health care services, reducing poverty and advancing health equity. So it is appropriate that the new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare celebrates Medicare’s 50th birthday by bringing these goals together in a road map for how Medicare can continue to improve its ability to provide high-quality health care for those with the greatest needs, including racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, rural populations and LGBT individuals.
Before Medicare, growing older meant balancing on the knife’s edge of poverty for millions of Americans. Among people older than 65, more than a third lived in poverty, and less than half had health insurance coverage, leaving them exposed to catastrophic health care costs. Since Medicare’s inception, the number of older adults who are uninsured and who are living in poverty has plummeted: By 2014, more than 98 percent of people over age 65 had health insurance, the vast majority through Medicare, and the percentage of seniors living in poverty had dropped by more than two-thirds.
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