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Older than...Medicare? Venerable Program Turns 44

July 31, 2009

SALEM, Ore. - The Medicare program turns 44 this week. It was signed into law in July 1965 and, for about 580,000 Oregonians, it's been a lifeline in terms of healthcare coverage. It is the federal health insurance program created for all people age 65 or older, no matter what their medical history or income level.

It doesn't cover everything, however, which some people find out the hard way. Lauren Rhoades, director of legal and regulatory affairs for the Oregon Health Care Association, says many seniors assume that the program will cover their long-term care.

"Unfortunately, that's really not the case. And actually, Medicare has a very limited benefit for individuals who need specific, skilled nursing home care, and beyond that, Medicare doesn't provide coverage for individuals who need long-term care services."

The State of Oregon picks up some of the long-term care costs for very low-income seniors, and for some who need in-home care. But Rhoades warns that, unless the state brings in more tax revenue, those services will likely be in jeopardy. She suggests anyone who thinks they could be facing long-term care issues look into private insurance coverage to supplement Medicare.

Overall, Rhoades says Medicare has worked well - although Oregon healthcare providers grumble that it doesn't reimburse them as much as doctors in other states.

"We run a very efficient and very successful program; we keep people out of the hospital; we try to keep people healthy and independent and in their homes. And in a strange way, we're punished for that by being paid less than other states are."

Nationally, Medicare spending is expected to nearly double in the next decade - not because of the growing number of aging Baby Boomers, but because of rising healthcare costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Medicare now makes up 13 percent of the federal budget.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR