In a blistering speech delivered to seniors living in one of Florida’s largest retirement communities in October, President Donald Trump decried Medicare for All as “socialism,” stating it would harm American values. However, the same thing was once said about Medicare, and now it’s the nation’s most popular healthcare program.
In his speech, Trump lamented the idea of putting the government in charge of peoples’ health and personal medical decisions.
“Every major Democrat in Washington has backed a massive government health care takeover that would totally obliterate Medicare,” he said to a vocal crowd. “These Democratic policy proposals…may go by different names, whether it’s single-payer or the so-called public option, but they are all based on the totally same terrible idea: They want to raid Medicare to fund a thing called socialism.”
The beginnings of Medicare (and calling it socialism)
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a national healthcare system in 1938, the American Medical Association (AMA)–the nation’s largest healthcare lobby group–issued its first statement opposing the idea by labeling it socialism because they feared doctors would make less money.
When President John F. Kennedy ran on a platform to create what would later become Medicare and Medicaid, the AMA lobbied hard. The lobby group hired then-movie star Ronald Reagan to record long-playing record titled “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine” and distributed to the wives of doctors (ladies’ auxiliary clubs) across the nation. The ladies’ auxiliary clubs were encouraged to have meetings with their friends over coffee, play Reagan’s record, and write to their Senators and Representatives to speak out against senior healthcare. The campaign was called Operation Coffeecup.
Medicare’s popularity despite the socialist label
The AMA softened its position on Medicare once the healthcare system passed into law in 1965 and boomed in popularity among beneficiaries. This popularity continues to this current day. In fact, a February 2019 poll found that 76 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are either very satisfied or satisfied with their healthcare coverage, and only 6 percent were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
The AMA is currently softening its stance on Medicare for All as well. The lobby group had staunchly opposed single-payer healthcare. However, in a vote during the 2019 annual AMA meeting, the opposition shrank considerably, barely garnering enough votes to formally oppose it.
Healthcare providers in favor of Medicare for All
The Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), a nonprofit education and research program of physicians and healthcare providers who support a single-payer system, supports Medicare for All.
The PNHP website reads, “Single-payer is a term used to describe a type of financing system. It refers to one entity acting as administrator, or ‘payer.’ In the case of health care…a government-run organization – would collect all health care fees, and pay out all health care costs.”
Whether or not Medicare for All is socialism comes down to who you ask. People who oppose the system are often concerned with financing the program, while people in favor of it are often concerned with how many Americans die every year without access to affordable healthcare.