Pause in Honor of Medicare

By Richard Propp, M.D. for the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)

At this time of year I usually start thinking about the passage of Medicare in July of 1965. How in the world did President Johnson decide to take on Congress to approve such a huge program for seniors? To sum it up, it was just the right thing to do. Why?

A personal story may help. In 1965 I was chief medical resident at Albany Hospital under Professor Richard Beebe. He allowed us to moonlight. I worked in Ravena in the practice of Drs. Mosher and LeFevre. Our elderly patients often had no money for their office visits or medicines. Sometimes they might leave a chicken on Mrs. Mosher’s back door. These folks were forced to rely on charity but had no real access to quality care. It just wasn’t right.

After Medicare was implemented in 1966, there were changes in medicine. Medicare Part A paid for hospital stays and also paid medical residents a better wage. Part B reimbursed outpatient care at 80 cents on the dollar and physicians flourished.

Later on, the disabled and those with kidney failure and ALS were covered as was Hospice care. Why? It was the right thing to do.

Some conservatives have always hated this government program for the elderly along with the program for the poor, Medicaid, that was enacted at the same time. They say that government should not be responsible for any health care. And even now they would privatize Medicare by turning it over to insurance companies through vouchers. You and I, through our Congress and our President, have so far beaten back these efforts. Why did we organize to fight for Medicare? Because it was the right thing to do.

And so, as July 30 approaches, it is proper that we pause to remember the signing of the Medicare Act, which took place at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., on that day. Here is what Lyndon Johnson said: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”

We honor Presidents Truman, Kennedy and Johnson and their staffs for their foresight and work that sustains our grandparents, parents, children, and generations yet unborn. Harry Truman proposed a national health plan in 1945. John Kennedy had health care on his agenda when he was assassinated in 1963. Lyndon Johnson carried their causes to fruition. And we will celebrate this historic achievement with a Medicare 48th birthday party at noon in West Capitol Park in Albany on Wednesday, July 31. Join us! It’s the right thing to do.

Then we will continue the struggle to improve and expand Medicare for all, as a right. We will do this to obey the ethics of all faiths that instruct us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s the right thing to do.

Dr. Richard Propp lives in Albany and is chair of Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare, which he co-founded.