WASHINGTON—The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) today recognized the 49th anniversary of the enactment of Medicaid and Medicare, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on this day in 1965.
"Medicaid and Medicare combined have served our nation's poorest and most vulnerable, creating a promise of better health and futures for millions," said Elizabeth Taylor, NHeLP's executive director. "They have been a lifeline, guaranteeing access to quality care from birth onward. President Johnson's legacy of a healthier nation continues because of these programs."
Medicaid is the nation's largest insurer, covering 65 million people, including children, pregnant women and adults. The program's core mission is to improve the lives of persons who would otherwise go without care. Medicaid provides affordable, quality coverage, including essential preventive services and prenatal care and delivery. Since Medicaid's enactment, both infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have decreased.
The program has particular meaning for low-income children, who are guaranteed an array of health services designed to spot early health challenges. These services, known as Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT), provide children with free physical screenings, immunizations and laboratory testing and health education. EPSDT improves the odds that children from underserved communities will grow up to be healthy adults by providing access to regular care.
Medicaid also plays a pivotal role in the lives of older adults and persons with disabilities, some of whom are dually eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. These individuals often have complex health needs and require access to long term care and support, whether in nursing homes or in home and community based settings. State Medicaid programs have been national innovators in improving options for home-based services for older adults and people with disabilities.
"Medicaid stands for a promise made and honored—a commitment to our most vulnerable and our seniors," said Jane Perkins, NHeLP's legal director. "Medicaid ensures that children and youth have access to the services they need to develop as they should and, together with Medicare, Medicaid ensures that older adults and individuals with disabilities can live full and healthy lives in their communities. They are the backbone of our safety-net and are as critical now as they were in 1965."
While Medicaid and Medicare have improved the public's health in measurable ways, nearly six million low-income persons are left in a coverage gap, due to some states' politically-based refusals to expand Medicaid eligibility. The Affordable Care Act continues the legacy of Medicaid by giving states the option to expand their programs to all eligible persons up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, opening the program to millions more low-income working adults in dire need of health care. Despite strong advocacy by NHeLP and advocates nationwide, at least 21 states are not expanding at this time, putting their economy and their residents' health at risk.