Medicare Turns 50

Medicare Turns 50

Fifty years ago, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare — and its sister program Medicaid — into law in the presence of former President Harry Truman in Independence, Mo. Eleven months later, both programs went into effect, with Truman and his wife, Bess, receiving the first two Medicare cards. (Truman was the first president to endorse the idea of a national health insurance program.)

Before Medicare’s passage, only about half of American seniors had any kind of health insurance, and much of what they did have was inadequate. So it was with genuine trepidation that Johnson and his administration looked to the day when Medicare was to begin. Would seniors put off seeking treatment until coverage started? Would the hospitals be stormed by patients brandishing their new Medicare cards, only to be turned away? Alarmed by that prospect, Johnson personally ordered military helicopters to be on standby, ready to whisk patients to Army hospitals if any civilian ones became overwhelmed. It never happened. The helicopters were never needed, and the rollout ran smoothly.

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