03 October 2008

Reagan and Medicare

I was struck by this line Palin used in the debate the yesterday:

Freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.
I did not realize at the time that she was quoting Ronald Reagan (She cited him, but I must have been typing and missed it), but the line jumped out at me as uncharacteristically eloquent for her. It didn't have a "youbetcha" attached to it, which was a dead giveaway that it was pre-scripted. So I was not terribly surprised in the postgame show to hear the origin of the quote; I could easily imagine President Reagan saying that in a State of the Union address.

Except that it wasn't President Reagan who said it. It was private citizen Reagan who said it in 1961, in a jeremiad against Medicare titled "Ronald Reagan speaks out against Socialized Medicine."

Listen to it. It's quite a blast from the past. I am always fascinated by reminders that Reagan had such a long history of political activism prior to becoming President (his election is the first one I clearly remember). Also interesting is that this was an LP commissioned and distributed by the AMA. I forget how regressive an organization it was back in the day.

It's also instructive to listen to it and see how profoundly wrong he was. He decries this "compulsory insurance" program as unwise and unnecessary, predicts that it will restrict the freedom of doctors to choose where they practice and the freedom of patients to choose their doctors. He is very clear in asserting that this is the "foot in the door" of socialism and that the inevitable consequence of enacting Medicare will be the downfall of capitalism.

Of course, it didn't quite turn out that way. Medicare isn't perfect, but forty years down the road, it's fair to say that it's the most successful government program ever. (Save perhaps Social Security.) It's wildly popular, and yes, even more efficient than private insurance. I'm not going to defend Medicare carte blanche -- it has many flaws, some inherent, some reparable, and the rate of medical inflation poses problems going forward. But in the long run, it is completely clear and inarguable that it has been a huge success and America, and American medicine, are much better off for having it. When you listen to Reagan's warnings, note how similar they are to the prophecies of doom uttered by the current opponents of universal health care. The plans on the table are considerably better than Medicare -- they are market-based and are not single-payer. So listen to Reagan, and remember that the opponents of government-adminstered health insurance were wrong in 1961, and they are wrong today.

(h/t Yglesias)


  1. The 1980 Presidential election is the first one you remember clearly? Either you're young or I'm old.

  2. Groan. A blast from the past, eh? 1961 is the year I was born. Now I really feel old.

  3. Medicare is "wildly popular?"

    I'm a big fan of hyperbole, but get a grip. Barely a majority of physicians are accepting new Medicare patients in my state.

  4. I'd say it's pretty darned popular with people who couldn't afford insurance at today's costs, especially if they've been retired for a while. Medical costs have gone up a lot faster and further than most peoples' retirements are keeping up with.

  5. Holy Cow! Medicare an example of a successful program? What rock do you practice under?

    A word of advice: spend less time on politics and more on the workings of the medical system.

    Are you really an ER doc? Or a doc at all? Where do you work that medicare works so wonderfully? What Utopia exists in this nearly bankrupt (morally and financially) nation that has such success?

    And shame on you for invoking the memory of Reagan when you support the most popular socialist of our day...


  6. Medicare is just a few years away from failure. As with other socialist programs and ponzi schemes it eventually comes to its mathematical end. The cost of the current affirmative action/greed/stupidity debacle will look like a drop in the bucket.

  7. SF, what are you growing and smoking there in the Northwest? What Reagan said about is downright prophetic. Medicare is a giant junkheap that is ready to breakdown.

  8. SF, what are you growing and smoking there in the Northwest? What Reagan said about is downright prophetic. Medicare is a giant junkheap that is ready to breakdown.

  9. "And shame on you for invoking the memory of Reagan when you support the most popular socialist of our day..."

    Oh, please, spare us the moral indignation. Reagan wasn't G-d, any more than Obama is a socialist.

    I believe Bush Sr. accurately referred to Reagan's economic policies as "Voodoo Economics," although it didn't stop him from perpetuating it, as have all Republican administrations in the last 25 years.

    Capitalism, in its unregulated form, results in exploitation of the masses for the benefit of the few. Being required to give something back for what you've taken isn't socialism -- it's simply the right thing to do.

  10. Like every other Democrat socialist program, Medicare was well-intentioned and probably sounded good (to them) in theory, but unfortunately Socialism just doesn't work in the real world.

    And what's worse, they still haven't learned.

  11. Connie T. Kett10/06/2008 3:48 AM

    I don't think that AMA ad constitutes political activism. He was a paid actor in this and a great many other things. Maybe the presidency, too.

    In his later years he showed evidence of confusing his life with his paid roles, as I recall.

    What struck me during his presidency was what a huge advantage even a mediocre actor has over a non-actor in political presentations.

  12. Connie T. Kett10/06/2008 4:14 AM

    ...unfortunately Socialism just doesn't work in the real world...

    Socialist theorists sought a democratic and humane system. The versions we have seen (and objected to) have mostly been totalitarian and cruel.

    Unfettered capitalism doesn't work either.

  13. I've spoken to people in Canada and Britain where they have socialized medicine,not to mention all I've read about it and it is a failure! Now we have an illegal alien as president (unless he can prove with verifiable evidence otherwise)who wants to take us there too.

    If socialized medicine is so successful, explain why so many countries who have it are telling us not to do it?

  14. "private citizen" Reagan?

    Is this a joke?

  15. Canada doesn't have socialized Medicine.

    Socialized medicine is a government doctor and facility. That would be our VA system.

    You might want to ask your supposed Canadian and English "friends" to clarify but you wont because you are lying.


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