WASHINGTON, July 30 (UPI) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell marked the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid by saying the programs should be expanded in 19 states to help millions of uninsured people.
Burwell said this would extend healthcare coverage to an additional four million people and offer "quality, affordable health care." To date, 19 states have decided not to expand the coverage, 31 plus the District of Columbia have decided to expand, and one -- Utah -- has not yet made a decision.
"No other program has changed the lives of so many of our families, friends and neighbors. No other program has given so many hope," she said. "For 50 years, Medicare and Medicaid have shown how effective policy can dramatically improve the lives of millions of Americans. But they have served another vital role in our health care system: a catalyst for change."
Fifty years ago Thursday, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that established the Medicare program for seniors and Medicaid for the poor. When the idea of a comprehensive health insurance program was first proposed, it was criticized as "socialized medicine." Decades later, critics feel the same way about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is widely called.
Today, Medicare covers more than 46 million seniors and nine million adults, while Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program covers nearly 72 million. Before the programs, most uninsured Americans relied on savings or charities to help with medical bills.
"The establishment of Medicare and Medicaid didn't just put an end to this injustice; it transformed health care in our nation," she said.
With the half-century mark, the program is facing economic and political strains not seen before. As baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 turn 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, Medicare's operating costs will continue to rise, presenting financial strains on the U.S. The Affordable Care Act is aimed at alleviating some of the pressure, Burwell said.
"By leveraging Medicare and Medicaid's market influence and using new tools given to us by the ACA, we've been working to pay providers for quality of care rather than quantity of services, unlock health care data, and find better ways to provide care," she said.