How Medicare destroyed America… right?

Time, Aug '65—Johnson's Great Society
Time, Aug '65—Johnson's Great Society

Medicare and Medicaid were introduced in middle of the Johnson administration, much to the angry protest of conservatives at the time. A trip thru Time magazine’s archives shows that they called them a handout; they called them socialism; they called them government interference in private health matters.

Sound familiar? All these things are being said about the Obama administration’s universal health care plan. Only add to that the panicked cry of Republican stooges saying that Obama’s plan will kill your grandma.

If Johnson’s plan specifically for senior citizens didn’t kill off old people, why would Obama’s universal plan do it?

But Medicare was a fiasco for years, wasn’t it?

No. Medicare was a more or less immediate success. Within two years it was hailed as such, despite the spiteful practices of some doctors who tried to cash in or tried to sink the program by billing patients directly (forcing patients to pay the full bill before they could get reimbursed later). Medicaid had problems and took some alterations, but soon enough became successful enough that the Nixon and Ford administrations didn’t dare kill it off.

But Nixon did try to kill them off, right?

No. He was busy creating a proposal for a universal medical insurance program as a desperate counter to Ted Kennedy’s national health care program. While he certainly tried to gut most of the Great Society programs, Medicare and Medicaid were so successful that they weren’t targeted. As it was, Republicans only barely managed to sink the idea of full-scale national health care.

But weren’t there unintended consequences?

Yes. Mostly positive ones. Doctors—who had been more outspoken than insurance companies against the programs—found that they no longer had to discount services for the poor and elderly or charge more to the wealthy to even it out a little. Doctors made more money—money they deserved—and the government evened things out itself thru taxes.

But these programs had an even more interesting side benefit: they helped end racial discrimination. In 1966, 75% of hospitals in the American South found they wouldn’t qualify for Medicare patients because of their racial policies. The obvious benefits of taking Medicare patients forced them to desegregate and join the civilized world. Even in the North, doctors who were simply willing to take poor black patients could suddenly make so much money that it seemed suspicious.

Isn’t there something bad to be learned from this?

Well, we still don’t have a universal health care program. That’s bad.

In 1971, Time noted that Germany introduced their national health care system in 1883. And:

The Swedes have had a national health system since 1955, the Norwegians since 1956; Britain adopted its national health scheme in 1948. Indeed, among the world’s major industrial nations, only the U.S. has thus far failed to devise some kind of national program that either provides or subsidizes comprehensive health care.

That was nearly forty years ago. If Medicare and Medicaid didn’t destroy America, and if Europe has found national health care systems to work for generations, it should be obvious that it’s time to implement one in the US.

And no, it won’t kill your grandma.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *