July 30, 1965: President Johnson Signs Medicare Into Law

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Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to seriously consider a federal health insurance program.

Fourteen years later, Harry Truman sent the House a bill that would offer health insurance to those age 65 and older, but it was blocked. Kennedy tried, too, sending a comparable bill to Capitol Hill in 1962, where it missed passage in the Senate by a few votes.

In each case, the American Medical Association (AMA) was the chief culprit in killing the legislation, spending millions to brand the concept as "socialized medicine," an ambiguous characterization that nonetheless made it intrinsically un-American.

By this point, half of the country’s population over age sixty-five had no medical insurance, and a third of the aged lived in poverty, unable to afford proper medical care; Lyndon B. Johnson believed it was high time to do something about this.

Shortly after his November election win, Johnson told Health, Education, and Welfare’s assistant secretary, Wilbur Cohen, to make Medicare the administration’s "number one priority." On January 4, Johnson put the issue front and center in his State of the Union message.

Proclaiming the 33rd president the true father of Medicare, Johnson awarded President Truman and Mrs. Truman the first two Medicare cards, numbers one and two.

The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older, was signed into law as an amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935. Some 19 million people enrolled in Medicare when it went into effect in 1966.

In 1972, eligibility for the program was extended to Americans under 65 with certain disabilities and people of all ages with permanent kidney disease requiring dialysis or transplant

In December 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Modernization Act, which added outpatient prescription drug benefits.

Medicare is funded entirely by the federal government and paid for in part through payroll taxes. The program is currently a source of controversy due to the strain it puts on the federal budget.

Throughout its history, the program also has been plagued by fraud—committed by patients, doctors and hospitals—that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

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