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Secretary Sebelius: Medicare Helps Millions

On the 48th anniversary of Medicare, Secretary Sebelius discusses its importance.

Ed Note: This is a cross post from The Huffington Post. You can find the original post here.

My 92-year-old father first ran for public office after he finished his military service in World War II. He served on the city council, and later was elected to Congress. In 1965, he helped write and voted for Medicare and Medicaid, which celebrate their 48th anniversary today.

Since then, Medicare has been a guaranteed benefit earned after a lifetime of hard work for millions of America's seniors. Medicaid has provided affordable health coverage for millions of low-income working Americans and families. Both programs have helped keep people from falling into poverty. Both have been lifelines to better health and sources of peace of mind and security.

That's why President Obama has made it a top priority to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid so that our seniors and future generations can get the health care they need and peace of mind they deserve.

Because of the health law, seniors are seeing more dollars saved in their wallets and better benefits to their health.

More than 6.6 million people on Medicare have saved an average of more than $1,000 on prescription drugs since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. That's money that has been used for groceries, utilities, and visits with grandchildren instead of being sent to drug companies -- and that's how the Affordable Care Act is closing the "donut hole" that too many seniors fall into.

More than 16.5 million people with traditional Medicare were able to take advantage of at least one preventive service with no out-of-pocket cost in the first six months of 2013. These services included annual wellness visits, mammograms, and other cancer screenings.

The health law is also making Medicare stronger by helping hospitals and doctors coordinate quality care, instead of focusing on quantity of care. Since last year, avoidable -- and costly -- hospital readmissions in Medicare have fallen for the first time on record, resulting in an estimated 70,000 fewer readmissions in 2012.

Another way we're strengthening Medicare is by rooting out fraud, waste and abuse in the system -- ensuring we protect taxpayer dollars and the health of our seniors. Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder and I announced another take-down of Medicare fraud schemes involving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in cities across the country. The law makes it harder for criminals to submit fraudulent claims and get paid in the first place, and our work has resulted in record Medicare fraud recoveries: Nearly $15 billion in the last four years.

The Affordable Care Act reforms ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and have led to historically slow growth in Medicare spending per beneficiary. And it has led to an actual drop in Medicaid spending per beneficiary last year.

Medicaid, a federal-state partnership, provides health coverage to 57 million people, including 4.6 million low-income seniors -- nearly all of whom are also enrolled in Medicare. The Affordable Care Act allows all states to expand Medicaid coverage to reach even more people -- and to ensure that your zip code doesn't determine your health care.

Medicaid expansion is a critical piece of the puzzle to ensure more Americans get the care they need. Expanding Medicaid also reduces the burden of uncompensated care. It injects significant resources into your local economies and local hospitals.

In some states, the governor and legislature have already decided to expand Medicaid. The door is open, and we will keep working until all states sign up. Speaking as a former governor, since the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of newly insured beneficiaries for the first three years, and at least 90 percent thereafter, this deal is too good to pass up.

Because of the law, those who count on Medicare and Medicaid -- our grandparents, parents, friends, and neighbors, and in many cases ourselves -- will have secure coverage for years to come.

That includes me.

Like 3 million other baby boomers, I turned 65 this year and joined the more than 43 million seniors who already rely on the peace of mind and security our parents had with Medicare. For me, this year is personal.

My dad and I are enrolled in Medicare. And just like he fought for the health and economic security of America's seniors 48 years ago, I will continue to work to ensure Medicare and Medicaid is there for all of our children and grandchildren, as it has been for us and our parents.

Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services

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