Medicare Celebrates Its 50th Birthday, Despite Ronald Reagan

In 1961, Reagan, then known just as an actor, now the ultimate iconic Republican, recorded an LP titled "Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine."

This file photo shows former President Ronald Reagan (R) in the 1952 movie "Bonzo Goes to College." AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read WASHINGTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Fifty years ago today, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill creating Medicare.

Two years before Medicare’s enactment, only 54 percent of Americans 65 and over had insurance that covered hospital expenses, and private insurance companies regularly terminated coverage for older “customers” who’d become too expensive. The elderly faced not just their bodies breaking down, but the simultaneous terror of financial ruin.

Within three years of Medicare’s creation, 96 percent of people 65 and over had hospital insurance, and it could never be cancelled. It’s hard to overstate how large a boon Medicare has been for the whole country.

But it’s worth remembering that this gigantic step forward in Americans’ quality of life was rabidly opposed by — among many others — Ronald Reagan. In 1961, Reagan, then known just as an actor, now the ultimate iconic Republican, was hired by the American Medical Association to record an LP record called “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.”

And it was completely nuts. Here are some of the highlights; a complete transcript is here.

“Back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people will adopt every fragment of the socialist program.”

This is the very beginning of Reagan’s recording, and, appropriately enough, is completely made up. Norman Thomas never said this.

“One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine.”

Medicine has never anywhere in history been a method of imposing communism (what Reagan means by “statism or socialism”). Communism was established in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba via armed revolution, not national health care.

“From [Medicare] it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay and pretty soon your son won’t decide when he’s in school where he will go or what he will do for a living.”

Yes, I well remember when I received my orders to report to the Patrice Lumumba Pod to begin my career as People’s Blogpost Writer 9784B.

“Write those letters now [to Congress] and call your friends and them to write … If you don’t do this and I don’t do this, 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.”

Here Reagan did have a point, given that there are a fair number of old people doing this now. They are generally white, watch Fox News, and are strong supporters of Medicare.

Caption: Reagan in 1952 film “Bonzo Goes to College”

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