LEWISTON — Lawmakers, social workers and a few elderly folks gathered Wednesday to celebrate Medicare and Medicaid’s 45th anniversary, praising the programs’ ability to keep fragile populations out of poverty.

No one should have to choose between eating dinner and visiting a doctor, said U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine.

“Before Medicare and Medicaid became the law of the land, only about half of our older Americans had health care,” Michaud said. “Now, because of Medicare, poverty has been greatly reduced.”

The gathering, held at SeniorsPlus in Lewiston, featured speeches, a birthday cake and information on Medicare and Medicaid changes.

Michaud voted Tuesday for an extension that added $16 billion in Medicaid funding to states. He also supported several recent changes to the laws governing Medicare and Medicaid.

The legislation creates new rules protecting people from denial of coverage from their insurance companies, and it creates tax credits for small businesses that provide health care to employees.

“The most important part about the law is something we already learned as children,” said Mia Poliquin Pross, the director of policy and operations for the Augusta-based Consumers for Affordable Health Care. “It’s about creating a strong, fair, healthy community where we can all have access to quality, affordable health care.”

Several Lewiston legislators — Sen. Margaret Craven, Rep. Peggy Rotundo and Rep. Michel Lajoie — attended the event.

Medicare and Medicaid were created and signed into law on July 30, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson. The first two enrollees were former President Harry Truman and his wife, Bess.

More than 262,000 Mainers are enrolled in Medicare and another 350,000 in Maine are part of the Medicaid program, Craven said.

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