On July 30th, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the epic legislation called Medicare into law. President Johnson’s historic achievement was not without significant contention and venom. Many on the other side of the aisle opposed it as nothing more than government intrusion on the rights of liberties of free people. That idea has been the clarion call for those who demonize major social programs for more than a century. Johnson knew it, embraced it, and challenged it successfully:
“The doubters predicted a scandal; we gave them a success story,” he crowed a month after the law took effect, as hundreds of thousands of patients entered hospitals for treatment covered by the government and some 6 million children and needy adults began getting benefits.
“Where are the doubters tonight?” he asked. “Where are the prophets of crisis and catastrophe? Well, some of them are signing their applications; some of them are mailing in their Medicare cards because they now want to share in the success of this program.”
President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black commander-in-chief, stands on the cusp of making history. Whether or not his achievement is as successful as Johnson’s remains to be seen. But in crossing the Rubicon, he has taken health reform initiatives further than any of his predecessors ever could. And whether you agree or not with the idea of reform– or the means of achieving it — Obama’s gambit is a remarkable achievement, borne from shrewd calculated strategy and bold, determined leadership.
President Obama, in the face of growing opposition and an unforgiving political climate, decided to eschew an incrementalist approach for broader sweeping reforms. Although this bill comes up shorter on some of his aims, it nonetheless will transform America as we know it — a sobering thought quickly becoming reality to those in staunch opposition. But the reality is government is already a major centerpiece of health care for American citizens:
In 1930, citizens paid nearly 80 percent of the nation’s medical costs from their own pocket. Government at all levels covered a mere 14 percent, with industry and philanthropy picking up the few remaining crumbs. Insurance was barely in the picture.
Federal and state programs now cover half the cost of health care purchased in the country and are expected to go over 50 percent in the next year or two, even absent Obama’s plan. By that measure, the government takeover of health care that opponents warn about is happening regardless of what’s about to happen next.
If the worry by some is about socialized medicine — then your fears have been realized for some time now, even without “Obamacare.”
Senator Edward Kennedy’s lifelong mission was to initiate health care reform. He came relatively close in the 1970s, with the help of then President Richard Nixon — who ironically, championed universal health care coverage — much to the dismay of his fellow conservatives. That effort failed, much like every attempt to reform the system over the last 100 years. Senator Kennedy did not live long enough to see his dream realized, but his efforts and dedication over the years, have driven this president to the brink of seeing it through.
The idea that the first black man to live in the White House could be the first president to achieve national health care is startling. History begets history. These are definitely changing times.