Medicare turns 47 today, and I’m old enough to remember it — I was almost 13 at the time and more politically aware than most people my age.
Like the Affordable Care Act, Medicare was denounced as a socialist program (actually, many called it Communist). It was the first step on a slippery slope.
Medicare was conceived by Harry Truman, who advocated a universal system, but he was willing to start by caring for the elderly. As soon as he proposed it in 1952, the American Medical Association denounced it and worked to stop its passage.
In 1958, Democratic Congresswoman Aime Forland of Rhode Island, introduced it again, and the AMA squashed it again with a massive campaign.
In 1960, a bill was passed creating a health care plan for indigent elderly, but it wasn’t a so-called entitlement program that would cover everyone who paid into it, but even this was too much for opponents.
In 1961, a new bill that was closer to Medicare as we know it, was vehemently opposed by the AMA and its affiliates. The Woman’s Auxiliary of the AMA launched Operation Coffee Cup — a series of small gatherings in communities across the country — to oppose it; the AMA bought full-page ads in newspapers and took to the airwaves to denounce the bill, known as King-Anderson.
Ronald Reagan made a recording to be played at anti-King-Anderson gatherings, which featured an 11-minute impassioned plea from Ronald Reagan to help him stop this socialist threat:
“One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. . . . “
If Medicare became law, according to Reagan, we were headed straight for totalitarianism:
… From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won’t decide, when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.
He urged good Americans to write to their members of Congress and ask then to vote against this travesty. Otherwise:
And if you don’t do this and if 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.
This time around we have the histrionics of the Tea Party calling for a stop to “Obamacare.” The problem is the same, though. In the 1960s, the anti-socialist frenzy was whipped up by doctors; today it is whipped up by the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey, who can afford their health care and who don’t want to help pay for yours.
Medicare has saved thousands and thousands of lives, offering access to care for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it through our for-profit system. Medicare is one of the most efficient, effective single-payer programs in the world. It is not going broke — or at least it won’t if we can get our national priorities back in line.
A generation or two from now, most Americans will ask what the big deal was about “Obamacare.”