Happy birthday, Medicare!

By Berry Craig
Kentucky State AFL-CIO, July 29, 2015

Count me among seniors wishing Medicare a happy 50th birthday Thursday.

Last December, I turned 65 and became Medicare eligible.

I’m old enough to remember when a Democratic-majority Congress, at the urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson, passed the Medicare bill in 1965. I was a junior at Mayfield High School.

Most Democratic lawmakers voted for Medicare. Several conservative Southern Democrats and most Republicans opposed the program, which was an expansion of Social Security.

All six of Kentucky's Democratic House members supported Medicare. The state's sole Republican representative, Tim Lee Carter, voted "nay." Kentucky's two Republican senators split -- John Sherman Cooper voted "aye" and Thruston Morton "nay." 

Medicare was to LBJ’s Great Society what Social Security was to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. FDR was also a Democrat. 

Medicare and Social Security are among the Johnson and Roosevelt administration's most enduring social justice legacies. Medicare is based on the principle that health care is a fundamental human right. 

Medicare and Social Security have been a godsend to millions of Americans. I couldn’t be happier to pack a Medicare card in my wallet. It’s next to my union card.

Unions were—and still are—among Medicare’s staunchest supporters.

Johnson signed the Medicare bill on July 30, 1965. Medicare birthday parties are scheduled for Thursday in more than 60 cities, including Louisville.

The Falls City festivities are set for 6:30 to 8 p.m., local time, at the Louisville Free Public Library’s Centennial Room. The address is 301 York St.

The featured speaker will be Dr. Jonathan Ross.

Kay Tillow of Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare is helping organize the party. More information about the celebration is available from the single payer group’s website by clicking here. Tillow’s email address is 

The parties will be more than commemorations of Medicare hitting the half-century mark. “Medicare is our country’s single payer health care system for seniors,” Tillow said. “All across the country, we will be calling on Congress and the public to Protect it, Improve it, and Expand it -- "PIE" -- to cover all.”

She added, “Medicare brought care and dignity to seniors, ended much suffering, extended lives and lifted millions from poverty. Medicare desegregated the nation's hospitals by making payment contingent on ending discrimination. Medicare shows what federal funding based on sound public policy can do for social justice.”

Indeed Medicare does.

This year's celebrations will call for safeguarding “Medicare from those who would cut it or turn it into a voucher system," Tillow said. "Medicare needs to be improved, for it still omits crucial dental coverage, inadequately covers drugs, and leaves many people unable to pay for care. Medicare should be expanded so that it covers all ages with no exceptions."

Amen -- Medicare should be so improved and broadened.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is the only Western industrial democracy that lacks a universal health care system.  

The celebrations also will champion passage of national single payer legislation, HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All. HR 676 has been endorsed by scores of unions and union groups in 44 states.

Endorsers include the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

My central labor council, the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, is also on record in favor of HR 676.

Washington-based AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is urging unions to get involved in the Medicare celebrations. To see his message, click here.

Also, Physicians for a National Health Program is backing a nationwide call in day on Thursday for citizens to urge lawmakers to become co-sponsors of HR 676. Current HR 676 co-sponsors are listed here. You can phone your representative at the Capitol switchboard number, 202-224-3121.

PNHP physicians have written articles for many newspapers advocating an end to private for-profit health insurance by moving to improved Medicare for All. Many of those op ed pieces can be seen here.

In Washington on Thursday, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the lead sponsor of H.R. 676, will hold a congressional briefing, moderated by veteran journalist Bill Moyers, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2237. The event can be viewed at this link:

For further details contact Congressman Conyers' legislative assistant, Erik Sperling, at

At 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Washington time, National Nurses United and others will hold a "Medicare turns 50" rally in Upper Senate Park, across Constitution Avenue from the Capitol. Congressional lobbying will follow. Further details are here.

Additional information is also available from All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care--HR 676 c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO), 1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218, Louisville, KY 40217. The phone number is 502- 636-1551.

Berry Craig is a member of the American Federation of Teachers Local 1360.