It’s a bizarre program that is absolutely essential to American healthcare.

That is the opinion of Theodore Marmor, professor of public policy at Yale and author of the book, The Politics of Medicare. Whether you agree with him or not, it is difficult to deny the influence of Medicare and Medicaid on the health care industry. To mark the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965, we have identified four ways these programs have shaped the health care industry.

  1. There is no stopping the health care juggernaut. In a March 2014 presentation during the conference of National Health Care Journalists, Rosemary Gibson (senior advisor with The Hastings Center) brought the point home with this statistic: In 1965, there were no health care companies listed in the Fortune 100. By 2013, there were 15. 
  2. The federal government is now the largest purchaser of health care in the United States. In its Primer on Medicare, The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 14% of the $3.5 trillion spent by the federal government in 2014 was spent on Medicare (approximately $505 billion total), making it the largest purchaser of health care in the United States. Its spending power means CMS and Medicare will continue to hold sway in the industry.
  3. Medicare and Medicaid is driving innovation, but have they run out of gas? US News & World Report estimates that today, one in three Americans is covered by Medicare or Medicaid, and it is that extension of coverage to a larger population that is driving innovation. In the article, “America’s Health Care Elixir,” Kimberly Leonard states, “Because the government covered more people, and eventually extended that coverage to include drugs and medical devices, industries knew they could invest in research because they would eventually recoup the costs of their work through sales of new products.” However, innovation is beginning to outstrip the programs’ ability to keep pace. For example, Leonard states, “Pharmaceuticals also are moving toward developing more expensive biologic drugs, which could be a challenge for Medicare and Medicaid to afford.” More important, the programs’ outdated structure, developed during a different business environment, serving a different population, is making it difficult for them to keep pace with technology.
  4. Medicare and Medicaid helped end segregation in health care facilities. One lesser-known positive effect on the industry is that these programs helped end segregation, at least at health care facilities. The programs required that health care facilities could not be racially segregated if they wanted to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments, which meant facilities had to start accepting African-American patients.

With the changes introduced with the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that the government is keen on keeping these programs going for another 50 years or more, and their legacy of influence in the health care industry continues to evolve. Where they will be in 50 years remains to be seen.