Legislation creating Medicare was passed in 1965 and enrollment began one year later, in 1966. Nobody knew if Medicare would be a success or failure. Would seniors enroll in the program? Would doctors and hospitals participate? Would the country be destroyed by this socialist program?
Five thousand people were hired by the government to go door-to-door to enroll people, 65 and older, into the Medicare health insurance program. The Part B premium was $3 per month, and many seniors said they could not afford to pay that much. (The monthly premium is $104.90 today.)
The American Medical Association (AMA) ran ads condemning Medicare, saying it would lead to socialized medicine. Ronald Regan was hired by the AMA to speak out against the legislation, and he predicted “a thousand years of darkness” if Medicare was implemented. Here is more of what Ronald Reagan had to say about Medicare:
One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. . . . We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program….the consequences for “our children” would be dire: “we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”
The Washington Post has an interesting article that looks back on the startup of Medicare in 1966, titled, “When Medicare launched, nobody had any clue whether it would work”.
The doom and gloom predictions over Medicare in 1966 seem very similar to the anti-Obamacare talk today. As it turned out, older Americans appreciate Medicare and know how important it is to their health – and to their financial well-being.
Only time will tell if the more than 30 million Americans without health insurance will sign up for coverage in 2014.
Will there be too many patients for the the number of doctors? In 1966, anti-Medicare voices said hospitals would be overwhelmed with old people wanting care. That didn’t happen. Ronald Reagan said we would be plunged into a thousand years of darkeness. That didn’t happen either.