Past Present & Future Medicare: Despite Tremendous Cost Overruns and Investments of Time and Effort by Congresses, Medicare Stands Virtually No Chance of Meeting Americans' Medical Demands

By Tennant, Michael | The New American, November 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Past Present & Future Medicare: Despite Tremendous Cost Overruns and Investments of Time and Effort by Congresses, Medicare Stands Virtually No Chance of Meeting Americans' Medical Demands


Tennant, Michael, The New American


"This bill," then-American Medical Association (AMA) JL president Dr. Edward Annis declared in 1962, "would put the government smack into your hospitals! Defining services, setting standards, establishing committees, calling for reports, deciding who gets in and who gets out--what they get and what they don't--even getting into the teaching of medicine--and all the time imposing a federally administered financial budget on our houses of mercy and healing. It will create an unpredictable burden on every working taxpayer. It will undercut and destroy the wholesome growth of private voluntary insurance and prepayment health plans for the aged which offer flexible benefits in the full range of individual needs. It will lower the quality and availability of hospital services throughout our country. It will stand between patients and their doctors. And it will serve as the forerunner of a different system of medicine for all Americans."

Although Annis was referring to one of the failed predecessors of Medicare, his words apply equally well to the real thing. Medicare, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson half a century ago, has indeed "put the government smack into ... hospitals," giving Washington unprecedented power over the healthcare not just of senior citizens but of all Americans, imposing an ever-growing tax burden on working Americans, entangling even the most routine doctor visits in red tape, reducing the "quality and availability" of healthcare, interfering in the doctor-patient relationship, and creating deficits as far as the eye can see.

The Road to Medicare

It didn't have to happen.

There was no pressing need for a federal program to insure all senior citizens in 1965. Contrary to Johnson's remarks at the signing ceremony, "older Americans" were not being "denied the healing miracle of modern medicine," nor was "illness crushing] and destroy[ing]" their savings.

"The government used carefully doctored statistics to mislead the public into believing that nearly half of the senior population did not have medical insurance coverage prior to the passage of Medicare," wrote Dr. Lawrence Huntoon in an Association of American Physicians and Surgeons pamphlet.

"These statistics, taken from a 1964 Department of Health, Education and Welfare [HEW] report, didn't count an enormous number of people who were covered by a variety of programs including: indemnity policies that paid cash benefits, existing government programs such as the Veterans Administration, and welfare. It also didn't count those who could afford to pay their own way--i.e. lack of 'insurance coverage' is not the same as lack of access to medical care."

Indeed, a 1960 University of Michigan study had found that "87 percent of all spending units headed by persons age 65 or older" had at least as many assets as households headed by younger individuals, leading Representative Thomas Curtis (R-Mo.) to ask pointedly why some found it necessary to "change the basic system" rather than simply address the needs of the few seniors who genuinely couldn't afford healthcare.

The answer to Curtis' inquiry was quite simple: Medicare was never intended to meet a real need. It was intended to push the United States further down the road to fully nationalized healthcare, and, in the process, win the undying loyalty of a major voting bloc to the Democratic Party. On both counts, it succeeded wildly.

The passage of Medicare was, in fact, something of a compromise on the part of many of its backers, who had long sought to impose compulsory universal health insurance on the United States. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to include it in his Social Security program, but was forced to retreat in the face of public opinion. His successor, Harry Truman, gave the first presidential speech devoted to the subject. Government officials and their allies waged a media campaign to convince the public of the desirability of such a program. …

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