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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – Medicare 50th Anniversary Edition

medicare.jpg It was fifty years ago today (July 30, 1965) that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law. Pictured above with LBJ are: fellow Democrats former President Harry S. Truman; Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey; First Lady Lady Bird Johnson; former First Lady Mrs. Bess Truman and other Democrats: “At the bill-signing ceremony President Johnson enrolled President Truman as the first Medicare beneficiary and presented him with the first Medicare card.”
From a DCCC e-blast: “Before Medicare was signed into law 50 years ago, fewer than 50% of seniors had insurance; 35% of seniors lived in poverty; Life expectancy was 8 years less for men and 5 less for women. Now, 5 decades later, 54 million people are enrolled in Medicare! It’s helped millions of older and disabled Americans across the country access quality health care. It’s truly been life-saving! And as Republicans try to tear Medicare to pieces, President Obama has fought to protect it for decades to come. Thanks to his Affordable Care Act, we’ve extended the life of the Medicare trust fund by 13 years.” More Medicare stats here.
Jonathan Cohn notes at HuffPo that “In the years leading up to Medicare’s creation, conservatives fought it bitterly, with Ronald Reagan famously warning it would create some kind of socialist apocalypse: “We 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.” Here’s an audio clip of the sainted Reagan dissing Medicare:
Yet, back then Medicare was passed with significant bipartisan support — the House passed the bill 313-115 on April 8, 1965. The Senate passed another version 68-21 on July 9. All of today’s Republican presidential candidates want to eradicate, eviscerate or weaken the program. Jeb Bush recently said the U.S. needs to “phase out” Medicare. Send. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz recently voted against a measure to protect Medicare benefits from a “voucher” measure.
Economically, Medicare has proved to be a huge bargain for taxpayers. As NYT columnist/Nobel laureate Paul Krugman notes, “It’s true that for most of Medicare’s history its spending has grown faster than the economy as a whole — but this is true of health spending in general. In fact, Medicare costs per beneficiary have consistently grown more slowly than private insurance premiums, suggesting that Medicare is, if anything, better than private insurers at cost control. Furthermore, other wealthy countries with government-provided health insurance spend much less than we do, again suggesting that Medicare-type programs can indeed control costs..Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations, to an extent that has revolutionized our views about the sustainability of the program and of government spending as a whole.”
A major ‘side benefit’ of the program: Medicare Helped To Desegregate Hospitals.
Medicare is enormously popular. As Kenneth T. Walsh reports at U.S. News: “…The basic program of Medicare now covers an estimated 55 million people, and three-quarters of Americans consider Medicare “very important,” according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Seventy percent say it should remain as it is. So politicians who propose major changes do so at their peril.”
Robert Pear’s New York Times article commemorating Medicare’s 50th anniversary concludes with this paragraph: “In a comment echoed by other Medicare beneficiaries, Judith M. Anderson, 69, of Chicago said: “After a lifetime of an utterly boring personal health care history, I was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Without Medicare, I would be bankrupt and probably dead by now. I had three surgeries and chemotherapy and paid less than $1,000 out of pocket. I love Medicare.”

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