Medicare: America's First Single-Payer System

Mon Feb 17, 2014 13:19:47PM | Categories: Medicare, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy & Health Insurance Industry
The single greatest legislative accomplishment in the second half of the twentieth century came on July 30, 1965, the date President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Amendments that created Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid was developed for our nations poor and destitute and Medicare was our nations first ever Single-Payer system that was available to every American citizen ages 65 and over, as well as individuals with certain disabilities. The focus of this article will be on the latter of the two programs.

Politicians, doctors, and citizen alike began the push for access to health care in the early twentieth century. The industrial revolution transformed this country in a way that nothing had before, and with it came new breakthroughs in medicine. President Harry Truman became the first Chief Executive to officially endorse the concept of a national health insurance, nearly ten years after the first bill to create such a program was introduced into the United States Congress during the raucous debate on Social Security.

The idea of a Single-Payer health program effectively went dormant over the next decade and a half until President Kennedy proposed creating a health insurance program for the aged in America. His tragic assassination could have put the idea on the back burner, but President Johnson decided that it was an important issue and helped usher it through Congress. It took over sixty years since the first time it was proposed, but senior citizens in this country finally had the peace of mind that they will be covered if and when they become ill.

In the years since it's passage, Medicare has become one of the most popular programs that the Federal Government administers. The interesting thing is that time heals all wounds. The passage of Medicare and Medicaid were just as divisive as the Affordable Care Act is currently. Then private citizen Ronald Reagan warned “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.” Other Republicans lined up to oppose the new socialized medicine by issuing dire warnings about America's inevitable path towards Socialism. Thankfully they were over ruled by the people then, just as they have been over ruled by the people today.

The loudest voices in the room are always the ones that fear monger and issue dire warnings of impending doom. Thankfully the sober and clear mined people typically win the day, as they did with the passage of Medicare.

Medicare will turn fifty years old next year. It seems impossible to think about a time before senior citizens had quality health care guaranteed in this country. My hope is that fifty years from now, it will seem impossible to think about a time before every citizen had the guarantee of quality health care regardless of age, socioeconomic status, or preexisting condition. It is long past time to start a drive for Medicare for all in this country.
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