Adventures in Old Age

A candid look at aging, old age, and eldercare.

Medicare is Socialism

The beginning of socialized medicine

"The American Medical Association said today that it was placing an advertisement in 100 newspapers to make its position clear on its opposition to health care reform. The advertisement calls health care reform ‘the beginning of socialized medicine.'"

Substitute "Medicare" for "health care reform" in the paragraph above and you have the verbatim quote of an article from the New York Times from June 8, 1965, only weeks before the passage of Medicare on June 30th.

Following passage, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons urged its 16,500 members to boycott Medicare. Henry E. Northam, executive director of the association said wherever socialized medicine had been tried, a deterioration of medical care followed.

The association also sent out a letter to its members that began, "Doctor, now is the time for you and every other ethical physician in the United States to individually and voluntarily pledge nonparticipation in HR-6675, the socialized hospitalization and medical care program for the aged."

Today, perhaps recognizing that Medicare and its covering of millions who would otherwise have no health care insurance created a huge and continuing gravy train without which many of today's doctors could not afford their BMWs, the AMA and other physician organizations are not unequivocally opposed to health care reform. Rather, they complain about low reimbursements, but argue for an expansion of coverage so that more money would be coming their way.

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But political opposition was presciently similar to what you can hear and see everyday in the current debate.

Earlier in 1965, in May, a spokesman for private insurance companies predicted that any government insurance plan would drive most private concerns out of business. A Chicago physician, R. B. Robins-also a former Democratic National Committeeman-that the most sweeping change to medical care ever proposed "is being rushed through to passage, and with hardly more than a pro forma consultation with the medical profession."

Opposition, of course, was not confined to the medical profession.

Ronald Regan, on behalf of the AMA, released an LP record (remember those?), Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine, in which he said:

"Write those letters now; call your friends and them to write them. If you don't, this program I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country...And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days 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."

Other politicians shared similar sentiments.

Barry Goldwater in 1964: "Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink."

George Herbert Walker Bush also was part of the chorus in 1964 when he called Medicare "socialized medicine."

And as late as 1996, when he was running for president, Bob Dole bragged, "I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare . . . because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965."

File all of the above under, "the more things change, the more they remain the same."

Some things do change. If health care reform is enacted, I don't think we'll see the great irony of Medicare's passage-that piece of socialism-in which people suspected of being socialists or, worse, communism, were in danger of being denied coverage.

On December 16, 1965, the New York Times, under a headline, "Medicare for Reds Barred," noted, "About 2 million persons are being required to disclaim membership in Communist organizations to qualify for hospital and nursing care benefits under the new Medicare law."

Perhaps today's undocumented residents-i.e., illegal aliens-all 12 million of them will stand-in for yesterday's "reds" as we hear calls to leave them uninsured. After all, we have to continue to find work for emergency rooms.

 

 

Ira Rosofsky, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Connecticut who works in eldercare facilities and the author of Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare.

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