Several notable changes have expanded Medicare offerings since the program began in 1965, including the addition of private insurance and a prescription drug benefit, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. Medicare, originally designed to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, experienced its first major change in 1972 when the program was extended to cover younger individuals with end-stage renal disease or long-term disabilities.
More than two decades passed before the next major change, which came in 1997 when Medicare introduced private insurance plans that offered a pricing structure similar to a health maintenance organization, or HMO. These plans were called Medicare Part C or Medicare Advantage. Medicare originally covered hospitalization and doctor visits but not prescription drugs. That changed in 2003 when the Medicare Modernization Act added prescription drug coverage for an additional premium, notes AARP. Although Congress passed the law in 2003, it took effect in 2006 and was called Medicare Part D.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 also provided financial relief for Medicare beneficiaries, explains AARP. The law required that health care companies offer some preventative care and screenings for free.
One of the largest changes in Medicare is the number of enrollees, adds AARP. The original Medicare program covered 19 million Americans when enrollment began in 1966, a number that expanded to almost 50 million in 2013.