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A series on Medicare at 50

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President Johnson signs Medicare into law in 1965, with former President Harry Truman, 81, the first Medicare card holder, looking on.  Mr. Truman had long pushed for national health insurance.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Medicare, MedPage Today starts a fascinating series looking at the achievements and problems — especially its spiraling costs — of the program.

Some of us at Cambridge Management Group well remember how the American Medical Association tried to stop the program from becoming law in the ’60s, asserting that it was “socialized medicine.”

It wasn’t but it did make many doctors and hospitals rich. Only in recent years have its reimbursements lagged physicians’ costs (and/or their financial expectations), leading to  major initiatives  aimed at bringing  its many wasteful aspects under control before it bankrupts America.

Meanwhile, even  many of the most ardent Tea Party conservatives like to talk about how evil would be cuts in Medicare benefits. But then, many Tea Party people are over or approaching Medicare age.

The original idea for Medicare goes back at least to Theodore Roosevelt in the sense of a national insurance plan. But Republican opposition has prevented a real universal, single-payer plan from being implemented.

Since the elderly vote in high numbers and because  age-related illnesses make it very difficult for most to get private insurance, they got what liberals  have wanted for the whole population. Politicians have generally worried more about old voters than, say, kids.

It will continue to be politically impossible to kill Medicare. Like Social Security, it’s too much a part of American life. But the flood of aging Baby Boomers and other factors ensure that it will continue to undergo change, some of them  wrenching.

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