Washington, DC… Hi, everybody. This week, there was a big birthday you might have missed. Medicare and Medicaid turned 50 years old. And that’s something worth celebrating. If one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its more vulnerable citizens — seniors, the poor, the sick — then America has a lot to be proud of. Think about it. Before Social Security, too many seniors lived in poverty. Before Medicare, only half had some form of health insurance. Before Medicaid, parents often had no help covering the cost of care for a child with a disability.
But as Americans, we declared that our citizens deserve a basic measure of security and dignity. And today, the poverty rate for seniors is less than half of what it was fifty years ago. Every American over 65 has access to affordable health care. And today, we’re finally finishing the job — since I signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the uninsured rate for all Americans has fallen by about one-third.
These promises we made as a nation have saved millions of our own people from poverty and hardship, allowing us new freedom, new independence, and the chance to live longer, better lives. That’s something to be proud of. It’s heroic. These endeavors — these American endeavors — they didn’t just make us a better country. They reaffirmed that we are a great country.
And a great country keeps the promises it makes. Today, we’re often told that Medicare and Medicaid are in crisis. But that’s usually a political excuse to cut their funding, privatize them, or phase them out entirely — all of which would undermine their core guarantee. The truth is, these programs aren’t in crisis. Nor have they kept us from cutting our deficits by two-thirds since I took office. What is true is that every month, another 250,000 Americans turn 65 years old, and become eligible for Medicare. And we all deserve a health care system that delivers efficient, high-quality care. So to keep these programs strong, we’ll have to make smart changes over time, just like we always have.
Today, we’re actually proving that’s possible. The Affordable Care Act has already helped secure Medicare’s funding for another 13 years. The Affordable Care Act has saved more than nine million folks on Medicare 15 billion dollars on their prescription medicine. It has expanded Medicaid to help cover 12.8 million more Americans, and to help more seniors live independently. And we’re moving our health care system toward models that reward the quality of the care you receive, not the quantity of care you receive. That means healthier Americans and a healthier federal budget.
Today, these programs are so fundamental to our way of life that it’s easy to forget how hard people fought against them at the time. When FDR created Social Security, critics called it socialism. When JFK and LBJ worked to create Medicare, the cynics said it would take away our freedom. But ultimately, we came to see these programs for what they truly are — a promise that if we work hard, and play by the rules, we’ll be rewarded with a basic measure of dignity, security, and the freedom to live our lives as we want.
It’s a promise that previous generations made to us, and a promise that our generation has to keep.
Thanks, and have a great weekend.