On July 30th 1965, the health care landscape was forever changed for Hispanic older adults. Medicare was signed into law, providing access to guaranteed health benefits for Hispanic aging. Now in its 50th year, Medicare is credited with lifting millions of Hispanic seniors from poverty by ensuring access to health care for those who would otherwise lack coverage. Today, 8% of Medicare beneficiaries are Hispanic but also 70% of Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes. below 200% of the federal poverty line.
Over the last five decades, Medicare has established itself as the gold standard for coverage, quality, and innovation in American health care. While the program’s successes are undeniable, challenges remain. Most Hispanic older adults with Medicare live on very low and modest incomes. Also, 30.7% of Hispanic older adults lack health insurance, and many spend decades waiting to become eligible for Medicare. Half of all Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes of $24,000 or less. Despite their low incomes, people with Medicare spend a significant amount on health care. On average, Medicare Hispanic households spend nearly 14 percent of their annual income on health care costs, compared to about 5 percent among non-Medicare Hispanic households. Health care spending increases among those in poorer health and with advancing age, and spending as a share of income is greater among those with lower incomes.
While this landmark anniversary represents an important opportunity to celebrate the remarkable successes of the Medicare program, it also provides a chance to identify ways to make Medicare even better for Hispanic older adults over the next 50 years. Looking ahead is the cornerstone of our latest online campaign, “50 Years: 50 Highlights from Medicare’s Past.” We are counting down to Medicare’s historic 50th anniversary by publishing a timeline with Medicare’s highlights over the past 50 years. Some highlights involve big changes, while others target small improvements.
Thinking ahead to the next 50 years, it is critically important for lawmakers to advance global changes to modernize benefits in both Original Medicare and private Medicare health plans. But it is equally important for policymakers to press forward on seemingly small fixes to improve how Medicare Hispanic beneficiaries navigate their coverage day-to-day. With this in mind, our top 10 highlights cover the waterfront, including filling long-standing benefit gaps for dental, hearing, vision, and long-term services; strengthening notice and education for people new to Medicare; and improving overall affordability.