Dozens of Bay Area seniors and health reform advocates converged in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood this morning to mark Medicare’s 45th anniversary.

At 10 a.m., the celebrants gathered in front of 90 Seventh St., where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has her district office, so they could present Pelosi’s staff with an oversized Medicare birthday card.

Medicare provides millions of Americans age 65 or older with access to critical health care services. Nearly 5 million Californians are enrolled in Medicare, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

Pelosi was one of the strongest forces behind a historic health care reform bill that was signed into law on March 23.

Members of the California branch of Health Care for Americans Now organized the morning fete and penned the 4-by-3-foot card, which detailed improvements in Medicare made possible from the passage of the new health care law.

“One of the great things about national health reform is that it really does improve Medicare because seniors will be able to obtain free preventative care,” said HCAN California organizer David Sharples.

Starting in 2011, all preventive care services – including mammograms, annual physicals and cancer screenings – will be free for seniors.

Over the next few years, the new bill will also close the Medicare D “doughnut hole,” which forces some seniors to pay for prescriptions that are too expensive to meet certain requirements and not expensive enough to meet others.

This year, seniors who fall into the doughnut hole will receive a $250 rebate check and next year, qualifying seniors will receive a 50 percent discount on covered brand name prescription drugs, Sharples said.

The new law, which is expected to streamline the Medicare program, will also increase the likelihood of its availability to future generations, he said.

Sharples said the Congressional Budget Office projects that the new law will save enough money over the next 10 years to extend the program’s solvency by 9 years, from 2017 to 2026.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!