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Wednesday, July 12, 2000
Contact: HCFA Press Office
(202) 690-6145

Millions of Older and Disabled Americans Have Benefited

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today hosted a D.C. celebration commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Medicare program in Washington, D.C. and 14 other cities across the nation. Secretary Shalala paid tribute to the program's long history and announced a national outreach effort to remind Medicare beneficiaries to take advantage of the preventive benefits Medicare pays to keep beneficiaries healthy, including the release of a new a public service announcement.

"This is a great national celebration of an important federal program which has been helping millions of older Americans stay healthy," said Secretary Shalala. "Since its creation in 1965, Medicare has served more than 93 million Americans, and has added home health care, hospice care, outpatient care and many preventive benefits. One of the best ways to celebrate the success of Medicare is by making sure that the millions of seniors and disabled Americans who have come to rely on it take advantage of the preventive benefits that the program now covers."

Preventive benefits Medicare covers include:

"Millions of people who are covered by Medicare have been taking advantage of these important benefits that help keep them healthy," said Nancy-Ann DeParle, administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), the federal agency that runs Medicare. "But more people need to know that Medicare pays for these benefits, which is why each of our regional offices is hosting health and screening fairs across the country."

As part of the celebration, HCFA unveiled a new public service announcement highlighting the preventive benefits Medicare covers and the new Checklist to Good Health, which allows beneficiaries to record which preventive benefits they have received. HCFA also announced a demonstration project to take place in Alabama, Florida, Missouri and Ohio that will test specific strategies to help older people quit smoking.

Secretary Shalala also announced the launch of the second year of Screen for Life, A National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign, an outreach program conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and HCFA. The program informs American men and women about the benefits of screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50. The campaign also stresses that Medicare, and many insurance plans, help pay for colorectal cancer screening.

Celebrations and health fairs are being held today in Providence, R.I.; New York City; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Atlanta; Chicago; St. Paul, Minn.; Kenosha, Wis.; Cincinnati; Lansing, Mich.; Lee's Summit, Mo.; Dallas; Denver; Oakland, Calif.; and Seattle. The sites were connected to the national celebration by satellite.

In the 35 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30, 1965, more than 93 million elderly and disabled Americans have been able to get high quality, affordable health care services. This year alone, more than 39 million Americans and their families rely on the nation's largest health care program.

On July 1, 1966, Medicare began paying for health care services for Americans over the age of 65. About 70,000 of those first beneficiaries are still receiving Medicare benefits as they reach their 100th birthday in 2000. Today, some families even have three generations enrolled in Medicare. In 1965, there were only 3,300 centenarians across the United States.

In just 35 short years, Medicare has changed the face of aging in America and has improved the lives of millions of elderly Americans and disabled Americans under the age of 65 by:

"A health insurance program designed to meet the needs of seniors in 1965 must be updated regularly to keep pace and set the pace for changes in the health care market," said Shalala. "Since 1965, Congress and the President have made a number of changes to Medicare and more changes should be expected to reflect the changing health care needs of our beneficiaries.

"Medicare is one of the most popular federal programs, and universally gets high marks from beneficiaries and members of their families," said Shalala. "But it must be modernized with an affordable voluntary prescription drug benefit to meet the needs of our seniors and those with disabilities. Without changes in the law, Medicare's benefit package will be out of sync with what is covered by today's private insurance market."

Some of the changes experienced through the program's 35 years include:

"While Medicare has provided peace of mind to those who are over 65 or living with disabilities, millions of Americans with significant health care needs are unable to buy affordable supplemental insurance," said DeParle. "Despite the vital assistance Medicare provides, today's seniors continue to spend about 18 percent of their income on health care costs because of gaps in benefits and high out-of-pocket costs."


Note: For other HHS Press Releases and Fact Sheets pertaining to the subject of this announcement, please visit our Press Release and Fact Sheet search engine at: www.os.dhhs.gov/news/press/