July 30th, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the national Medicaid and Medicare programs, signed into law by President Johnson in 1965. Those programs’ initial expansions of health coverage to the poor and elderly began a decade-long decline in the national uninsured rate, as many people who had previously been uninsured gradually enrolled in coverage.
Asthe Kaiser Foundation writes (1), the authors of the 1965 law “could not have predicted that that federal and state policymakers would look to the program again and again to cover the growing number of uninsured and underinsured Americans, or that it would become the nation’s de facto long-term care program for people with disabilities and senior citizens, or that it would be a major source of health care financing and innovation (our emphasis).”
We often take Medicaid and Medicare for granted today, but they play essential roles in making the American health care system accessible to the poor, elderly, and disabled. A look at changes in the national uninsured rate (below and in more detail here (2)) serves as a reminder that, after bill became law, these programs’ expansions of benefits happened over years, not overnight.
The graph above also shows a gradual decrease in uninsured rates beginning with passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the first sustained expansion of health coverage since 1975. The Health Insurance Marketplace and recent changes to BadgerCare Plus (3) are expanding health care access in Wisconsin, as did Medicaid (4) and Medicare (5). Also like the changes 50 years ago, today’s changes are taking time.
Many have already taken advantage of the ACA’s new coverage opportunities. Women and those with pre-existing conditions can now purchase coverage for the same price as everyone else, young adults can stay insured through their parents until age 26, and many have found affordable insurance on the Marketplace.
The ACA also provides opportunities to get and stay covered that are less well-known. Individuals who leave a job or start a new one can apply for Marketplace insurance, even outside of Open Enrollment. Couples getting married or divorced, individuals moving outside their current plan’s coverage area, and others who are going through times of transition can access the Marketplace throughout the year. Employers may also be able to attract employees by offering coverage through healthcare.gov’s Marketplace for small businesses, which also has subsidies available.
Finally, the ACA established funding for Navigators, who help consumers sort through all the resources that are available. Navigator services are a free, public resource and available year-round. Contact a Navigator at Covering Kids and Families to ask questions or make an appointment to enroll in coverage.
Here is an infographic to celebrate the day: