President Johnson signs Medicare bill on July 30, 1965
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On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law Medicare, which provides low-cost hospitalization and medical insurance for the nation's elderly. The legislation remains an important legacy of LBJ’s “Great Society” society initiative.
Thirty years earlier, Congress had shelved the first government-mandated health insurance proposal, put forward as a companion to the then-new Social Security program. Ten years after that, as World War II ended, President Harry Truman asked the lawmakers to create a national health insurance plan.
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 insuring Social Security beneficiaries. 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 logjam finally broke with the election of 1964, which swept LBJ into the White House behind large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Shortly after that election, a breakthrough occurred when House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.), who had previously blocked Medicare proposals, said, "I can support a payroll tax for financing health benefits just as I have supported a payroll tax for cash benefits."
When the long-stalled Medicare effort came before the 89th Congress in January 1965, congressional leaders designated the bills as H.R. 1 and S. 1. Despite determined resistance by organized medicine and some of its congressional allies, the Medicare bill moved forward. A Mills rewrite cleared the House on April 8 by 313-115. The Senate approved its version on July 9 by 68-21. A conference committee labored for more than a week in mid-July to reconcile 513 differences between the two chambers.
At the White House bill-signing ceremony, Johnson enrolled Truman as the first Medicare beneficiary and presented him with the nation’s first Medicare card.
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