There’s nothing to kill whatever momentum and readership I have than to talk about politics. And even better, it’s talk about Medicare and Medicaid, but without all the “fun” (not really) of “THANKS OBAMA!” and “Get your government hands off my Medicare!” shouting and insanity of the Affordable Care Act. So, yes, this isn’t exactly sexy times here on Star Trek Debriefed.
It is, however, July 30th, 1965. It’s a bad week for tobacco in the United States and England, as President Johnson signs into law legislation requiring that tobacco products carry health warnings (though we are years away from the familiar “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING” disclaimer) on the 28th, and England just flat out bans TV advertising for tobacco on the various regional versions of ITV (the only commercial network in the UK at the time) tomorrow. And in a supreme act of cynicism, President Johnson increases the number of troops in Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000 on the same day he signs the tobacco thing into law. Also, J.K. Rowling is born on the 31st, making for the only mention of Harry Potter in this project (because this is absolutely not a blog about my college years, nor the years of underachievement that have followed). But the most effective and long-lasting bit of business is the amendments to the Social Security Act that President Johnson signs into law.
The idea of government-provided health insurance in the US goes as far back as 1912 and Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidential campaign platform (which went unfulfilled). Later, the labor unions and socialist organizations began pushing for it, as well, but were ultimately opposed by the American Medical Association (employing failed B-movie actor and general piece of garbage Ronald Reagan, but that’s another story for another day), the American Hospital Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and something called the Life Insurance Association of People. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had pushed for health insurance for all under the original Social Security Act, but was forced to drop it due to the opposition, and while President Truman had also tried to pass it through, the conversation was merely shifted towards providing health coverage to the elderly.
By the ’60s, however, attitudes were changing, and a law was inevitable, with Johnson’s landslide election in 1964 (and the ensuing sweep through Congress, which effectively neutered the Southern Democrats’ power) being the tipping point. The AMA tried drafting a bill though its
paid stooges allies in Congress, but were rebuffed, while the passed law was largely the Johnson Administration’s bill with some elements of Republican Congressman John Byrnes’ bill. The signing of the bill was a classic example of political theater: it was held in Independence, Missouri, with former President Truman and his wife, Bess, present, and they were named as the first recipients of Medicare, as well. I’m not sure that anyone scored that high on the patriotism scale until The Colbert Report hit the air.
Of course, on its face, providing health coverage for Grammy and Grandpa (and even footing the bill if they end up being poor in their old age) seems like a slam dunk, and the continued viability of the program is certainly one of the key motivations behind the votes of the elderly these days (a demographic group which can be trusted to vote in higher proportion than the rest of the population). The problem is, outside of some fairly limited expansions in coverage, Medicare and Medicaid have made no further progress towards FDR’s original intention of health insurance for all Americans. Sure, we have the Affordable Care Act, which fines the hell out of Americans at tax time if they don’t have insurance and provides some subsidies for the poor and unemployed, but this is not a substantial improvement, since health care still costs too much in this country and it only limits the number of dirty tricks the private insurance companies can pull while expanding the pool of paying customers. Worse yet, Medicare and Medicaid are one of those so-called “entitlements” that budget hawks and Republicans like to single out as costing taxpayers too much. Like oh so many issues I’ll be touching upon from this ’60s on this blogging project, The Social Security Act of 1965 started to solve a pressing problem in this country, but was treated as if no more work was necessary.
Next week, even more US legislation!