Posts Tagged ‘government healthcare’

Medicare President Johnson’s Great Society Legacy

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

On July 30, 1965 – nearly 20 years after Harry Truman first proposed national healthcare insurance – President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare  into law. The program, one of the most consequential legacies of the Great Society, provides affordable healthcare insurance for people aged 65 and above.

Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to propose government-mandated healthcare insurance as part of his Social Security program, an effort that proved unsuccessful.  After World War II, Truman asked lawmakers to enact a national health insurance plan – again to no avail.lbj_big_picture46152620

“By the time Truman prepared to leave office in early 1953, he had backed off from his original plan of universal coverage.  The focus increasingly turned toward Social Security.  Nearly two decades of futile debate ensued, with conservative opponents, joined by the American Medical Association, repeatedly warning of the dangers of ‘socialized medicine.'”

The legislative gridlock broke when Johnson won the presidency in the 1964 landslide election and brought sizeable Democratic majorities to the Senate and House.  The breakthrough came when House Ways and Means Committee chairman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas had an epiphany and decided to support Medicare.  According to Mills, “I can support a payroll tax for financing health benefits just as I have supported a payroll tax for cash benefits.”

The Medicare bill easily cleared the House by 313 – 115 and the Senate by 68 – 21.  When Johnson signed the legislation into law at a White House ceremony, Harry Truman – aged 81 – attended and was enrolled as the nation’s first Medicare beneficiary.

Tommy Douglas: ‘Greatest Canadian’ Brought Universal Healthcare to His Nation

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

“My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea.” – Tommy Douglas, 1961

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The man who brought single-payer Medicare to Canada was Thomas Clement Douglas, a Scottish-born socialist and Baptist minister (and grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland) whose devotion to social causes, excellent speaking ability and charm helped him succeed in politics.  Throughout his career, Douglas remained true to his socialist beliefs, often at great cost to his political life.  Still, his legacy earned the respect of millions of Canadians.  He introduced government healthcare to Saskatchewan and later championed its adoption throughout the rest of the country in the 1960s.

A childhood bone infection forced Douglas to undergo several unsuccessful leg surgeries.  Because his parents did not have the money to pay for a specialist, Douglas almost had his leg amputated until a surgeon offered to operate on him for free – as long as his students were allowed to observe.  The surgery saved Douglas’ leg – and possibly his life – and inspired him to find a way to provide accessible and affordable healthcare for all.

Douglas, who died of cancer in 1986, was voted “The Greatest Canadian” of all time in a nationally televised Canadian Broadcasting Company contest in 2004 – surely a sign of the impact single-payer system has had on the country.

Douglas was elected as an MP in the Saskatchewan Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1935.  After spending nine years in the House of Commons, Douglas was elected the leader of the provincial CCF in Saskatchewan.  With its popular message of socialism, the party won a landslide election in 1944 and Douglas became the leader of North America’s first socialist government.

tommydouglas-rebelDuring his 18 years as Saskatchewan’s premier, Douglas introduced car insurance, labor reforms and his dream of universal Medicare to the province.  Although Douglas lost power in 1961, he continued to promote his socialist policy and persuaded the Liberal party under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s leadership to adopt a national Medicare and pension plan.