Happy Birthday, Medicare (Eat Your Hearts Out, Republicans)


47 years ago today a key strand of our social safety net, Medicare, was signed into law.  The law took  effect  July 1  of the following year. The ceremony was held in Independence, Missouri, the hometown of Harry Truman.  Truman and his wife Bess were nearby as President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic legislation. It was fitting and proper that Truman was not only present but received  the first Medicare card.  Truman, you see,  had proposed a national health care system soon after taking office following FDR’s death  in 1945. Unable to overcome opposition from the Republican party and the AMA, Truman scaled down his ambitious plan  to a  health insurance program for seniors only, Medicare. At the time, about 50% of seniors had no health insurance coverage whatsoever.

During the Eisenhower years, the opponents of Medicare (read GOP and AMA) successfully derailed all Democratic efforts to enact a Medicare law. They made the same arguments they make today. It’s socialized medicine. It should be left to the states.   It will take away your right to choose your own doctor.  Yada, yada, yada, yada.

Leading  the attack on Medicare in those days was a smooth-talking, engaging veteran Hollywood actor  who had morphed into the spokesman  and public image  of General Electric Corporation: Ronald Reagan. Here’s what liberal-turned-conservative Reagan said in 1961 about the specter of Medicare: ” If you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” Reagan of course wound up eating his words. He never did disown Medicare. And during his term he  never rolled back any part of  it. Matter of fact,  he signed into law in 1988 an extension of it , Medicare Catastrophic Coverage. President GHW Bush in a volte-face allowed it to be repealed two years later.

So happy 47th birthday, Medicare!    And God forbid your traditional enemies get back into power.  For if they do, they’ll wrap you in vouchers and drown you in their proverbial bathtub.


Filed under: health, politics

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