Tuesday, Mar. 23, 2010

Medicare, 1965

The health care fight of 1965 played out in Congress under strikingly similar circumstances — a war abroad, a huge national debt and deep political divisions. The fight this time was over a new entitlement program that, if passed, would aid the nation's elderly. It was dubbed Medicare. That system still serves tens of millions of Americans today.

Opponents' arguments also sounded much the same: escalating costs, higher taxes, socialized medicine. John F. Kennedy originally proposed the program (rejected by Congress), and it was his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, who was able to shepherd the bill to its passage on July 30, 1965. Another program, Medicaid, was a last-minute addition to cover health care costs for the nation's growing poor. Obama and Johnson now stand as the only two Presidents able to rise above sharp, decades-long political divisions to pass health care legislation. LBJ's words upon passage of his bill still echo: "In this town, and a thousand other towns like it, there are men and women in pain who will now find ease."