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49 Years of Medicare: A Healthier Outlook?

Medicare may have turned 49 this week, but questions linger about how many more birthdays the program will be able to celebrate. The influx of baby boomers reaching retirement age and increasing medical costs have lawmakers looking for options to prevent the program from going bankrupt.

This year, Illinois began the Medicare-Medicaid Alignment Initiative for people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. Other options being discussed to reform Medicare include raising the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. Nan Anderson, a volunteer with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, works to educate and promote the program in Illinois and says she's concerned about its future.

"Right now we're going through so many changes, and the combining of Medicare and Medicaid for the least able has so many questions attached to it I don't know where it's going," says Anderson. "It's scary."

The 2014 Medicare and Social Security Trustees report released this week shows a slightly improved financial picture for Medicare with slowing health care costs, in part a result of health care reform. The report also shows Medicare's hospital trust fund will pay full benefits until 2030, four years later than last year's report.

But Medicare is adding an estimated 10,000 members per day, and last year covered more than 52 million people nationwide. Anderson calls Medicare "the lifeblood," not only for older Americans, but also their children and spouses.

"I've helped people obtain benefits who, in many cases, didn't know they could utilize them, how important they are, and how on the edge they were living," says Anderson. "Where we would be without Medicare is just unfathomable."

There's been some discussion about changing the payment structure to reduce Medicare costs. Some believe paying providers to care for each patient, instead of paying them based on the numbers and types of services they perform, would give doctors more flexibility and result in more personalized patient care.

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