Flashback: Republicans Opposed Medicare In 1960s By Warning Of Rationing, ‘Socialized Medicine’

Tomorrow is the the 44th anniversary of Medicare, a government-sponsored health care program that provides health coverage to virtually all of the nation’s elderly and a large share of people with disabilities. While Medicare is not without its problems, it has dramatically improved access to health care, allowed seniors to live longer and healthier lives, contributed to the desegregation of southern hospitals, and has become one of the most popular government programs.

At the time, conservatives strongly opposed Medicare, warning that a government-run program would lead to socialism in America:

Ronald Reagan: “[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” [1961]

George H.W. Bush: Described Medicare in 1964 as “socialized medicine.” [1964]

Barry Goldwater: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink.” [1964]

Bob Dole: In 1996, while running for the Presidency, Dole openly bragged that he was one of 12 House members who voted against creating Medicare in 1965. “I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare . . . because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965.” [1965]

Despite Medicare’s success and the unrealized fears of its detractors, Republican lawmakers are still regurgitating the claim that Medicare would create a “Soviet-style model” of health care. As Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MS), chairman of the GOP Health Solutions Group, explained during a recent radio interview, “you could certainly argue that government should have never have gotten in the health care business…Government did get into the health care business in a big way in 1965 with Medicare, and later with Medicaid, and government already distorts the marketplace.”


Over the years, Republicans proposed numerous schemes to slash funding or privatize Medicare. Most notably, in 1995, under the leadership of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Republicans proposed cutting 14% from projected Medicare spending over seven years and forcing millions of elderly recipients into managed health care programs or HMOs. The cuts were to ensure that Medicare is “going to wither on the vine,” Gingrich explained. Similarly, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) proposed cutting $1.3 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid.

But while Republicans have sought to undermine the program, seniors have benefited from it. Since 1965, “the health of the elderly population has improved, as measured by both longevity and functional status.” In fact, according to a study from Health Affairs, life expectancy at age 65 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 17.8 years in 1998 and the chronically disabled elderly population declined from 24.9 percent in 1982 to 21.3 percent in 1994.”

Prior to Medicare, “about one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance,” “more than one in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns,” and one in three seniors were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

Moreover, a recent survey from the Commonwealth Fund, found that “elderly Medicare beneficiaries reported greater overall satisfaction with their health coverage, better access to care, and fewer problems paying medical bills than people covered by employer-sponsored plans.” In fact, Medicare is so popular that most Americans support expanding Medicare coverage to Americans aged 55 to 64. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, “over half of Americans (53 percent) “strongly” support such a proposal and an additional 26 percent say they support it somewhat, totaling 79 percent backing.”


This afternoon on MSNBC, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) explained his opposition to a new public health care option by arguing that Medicare spending has exceeded actuarial estimates from 1965. As Andrea Mitchell pointed out, somewhat jokingly, “I don’t know if you want to go back to Indiana and campaign against Medicare.” Watch it: