“This is socialized medicine!” was the charge leveled by opponents of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, when these two landmark pieces of legislation were being debated.
The debate was a bit more civil then, but the scare tactics were exactly the same as they are today as we debate health care legislation. In the 60’s, I attended a dinner of the Vermont Medical Association and listened to the speaker rage against communism, the importation of Polish hams, and socialized medicine, all in one sentence.
Doctor’s wives—which I was at the time, were expected to be part of the AMA Auxiliary. We were recruited to spread the word about the evils of socialized medicine. They did not ask us to disrupt town meetings. Instead, we were asked to hold teas in our neighborhoods and play a record made by Ronald Reagan. The closing words warned that if Medicare and Medicaid were passed, Reagan’s sonorous voice said: “In your sunset years, you will be able to tell your children and grandchildren what life was like when men were free.”
I was not a typical doctor’s wife. I recruited some of my doctors’ wives friends and we started a counter group, which we tamely called a “study group” to ostensibly discuss the legislation. My real mission was to demonstrate that not all doctors, and not all doctors’ wives opposed this bill.
Our first event was a debate held between the head of the Vermont Medical Society and an official from the agency of health education and welfare, as it was then called. Unfortunately, he was not an effective proponent of the law and a young legislator, named Phil Hoff, who later became Governor, accused us of slanting the debate in favor of the AMA.
I had to set the record straight. At our next event, we would just present one side—in favor of the legislation, I made sure this speaker was well prepared. We filled City Hall auditorium. Unlike today, there was no shouting, but a lot of questioning, and tremendous concern about providing coverage for the elderly.
Ronald Reagan turned out to be wrong. Most of us are so happy, in our sunset years, to have access to Medicare, and yes, we are still free. The lesson here is simple—the hysterical exaggerations that are being blasted from the airwaves are almost identical to what we heard then.
They did not triumph then, and they must not be allowed to drown out the voices of reason and common sense today.
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.
This article originally appeared as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio.