Medicare turned 50 on Thursday, and that's not all the program's overseers have to celebrate. Before Medicare was created in 1965, almost half of all Americans over 65 had no health insurance; in 2015, all but 2 percent do. (Tweet This)
Medicare's critics are legion, but its spending per beneficiary has increased more slowly than private health insurance spending per enrollee: Medicare's spending has grown an average of 7.5 percent annually between 1969 and 2013, compared with private health insurance's 9.1 percent.
Spending growth has been particularly slow in recent years. The average annual growth rate in total Medicare spending dropped from 9 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 4.1 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of Medicare data. The latest Medicare trustees' report projects a surplus in the hospital insurance trust fund, a key Medicare funding source, from 2015 to 2023.
Some experts argue that this reflects the influx of boomers into their retirement years, leading to a disproportionate number of beneficiaries at the younger end of eligibility who probably require less health care.
"Medicare has been growing at historically low growth rates. At the moment, the sense is the pressure is off for dramatic changes to the program," said Tricia Neuman, director of the Kaiser foundation's Project on Medicare's Future.
But the relative good times may not continue as more boomers age into the years when they need the most medical care. The Kaiser foundation calculates that the number of Medicare beneficiaries age 80 or above will increase from 11.3 million in 2010 to 30.9 million in 2050. (Tweet This)
In addition, Kaiser found that Medicare per-capita spending increases almost every year from age 65 to 96.
Neuman thinks the expansion of the Medicare population, particularly the costlier segment, will eventually put pressure on lawmakers to act. If "the federal government doesn't finance the care, either the costs will shift to seniors or Medicare will need to find some other way to reduce the growth in spending," she said.