Exclusive: Ellen Ratner revisits Gipper’s warning about U.S. becoming socialist country
Published: 2 days ago

author-image ELLEN RATNER About | Email | Archive

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This week was the 50th anniversary of Medicare. When Medicare became law, I was living in Memphis, Tennessee. My mother had married a physician after my father died, and she was railing about Medicare and how it would destroy medical practice and doctors. It was a very memorable rant. Until this week, when talk-show host Thom Hartmann gave me the background to mother’s anger at Medicare, I had no idea where her vocal rant came from.

It came directly from the American Medical Association, or AMA, and a little-known recording by then private citizen Ronald Reagan. It was titled, “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.”

It was a little over 10 minutes long and was handed out by the AMA in a public relations attempt called “Operation Coffee Cup.” This effort by the AMA was designed to have wives of doctors contact Congress so there would be an end to President Kennedy’s efforts to help older Americans get health care. The health-care fight, brought into focus by President Kennedy, was in the 1948 election platform by the Democrats, and it also included clinics and hospitals as well as mental health care.

The 1961 bill (HR 4222) expanded government care for the elderly. It was the impetus for the American Medical Association’s “Operation Coffee Cup” and the dissemination of Ronald Reagan’s vinyl record.

In his recording, Ronald Reagan takes on what would eventually become Medicare by saying government “has invaded the precincts of private citizens.” He said, “One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine.”

Ronald Reagan went after what was then known as the Ferrand bill. He said, “This was the idea that all people of Social Security age should be brought under a program of compulsory health insurance.”

Reagan believed that his this bill was a foot-in-the-door philosophy to make America a socialist country.

Reagan continued, “But let’s also look from the other side. The freedom the doctor uses. A doctor would be reluctant to say this. Well, like you, I am only a patient, so I can say it in his behalf. The doctor begins to lose freedoms. It’s like telling a lie. One leads to another. First you decide the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government, but then the doctors are equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him he can’t live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go some place else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.”

Reagan, exhorts the wives of the AMA physicians to write to their member of Congress: “You and I can do this. The only way we can do it is by writing to our congressmen even we don’t believe that he’s on our side to begin with. Write to strengthen his hand. Give him the ability to stand before his colleagues in Congress and say that he has heard from my constituents and this is what they want. Write those letters now call your friends and them to write.

“If you don’t, this program I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow.”

He ends his recording by saying that if this bill is not stopped, “we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Somehow, the current GOP, which has fought Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, tooth and nail, missed the message that Ronald Reagan gave in that 1961 recording. The National Republican Campaign Committee released a press release on July 30, the 50th anniversary of Medicare, touting the accomplishments of this Republican Congress on one aspect of Medicare.

It said, “In the spirit of working to best serve American families and getting things done in Congress, the House earned praise this spring for finally putting an end to the ‘annual scramble’ known as the Medicare ‘Doc Fix.’ Under the new policy, taxpayers will see real savings, seniors will receive better health care, and doctors will provide better patient care.”

If Ronald Reagan was right in 1961 and what became Medicare was going to turn the U.S. into a socialist country, somehow the Republicans of 2015 missed his message, as this week they were touting the Medicare program. Times have clearly changed, or the voters they want in 2015 have gotten older.

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