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Was Medicare popular when it passed?

For some time, I've been trying to find good polling from the passage of Medicare. According to Greg Sargent, though, the Democrats beat me to it:

In a last-minute effort to stiffen Dem spines, senior Dem leadership aides are circulating among House Dems some polling numbers from the 1960s that underscore how controversial Medicare was in the months leading up to its historic passage.

Dem leadership staff is highlighting a series of numbers from 1962 on President John F. Kennedy’s proposal. In July of that year, a Gallup poll found 28% in favor, 24% viewing it unfavorably, and a sizable 33% with no opinion on it — showing an evenly divided public.

A month later, after JFK’s proposal went down, an Opinion Research Corporation poll found 44 percent said it should have been passed, while 37% supported its defeat — also showing an evenly divided public.

Also in that poll, a majority, 54%, said it was a serious problem that “government medical insurance for the aged would be a big step toward socialized medicine.”

After Lyndon Johnson was elected, a Harris poll found only a minority, 46%, supported a Federal plan to extend health care to the aged. Today, of course, Medicare is overwhelmingly popular.

I wonder how many of the legislators who took the tough vote to move Medicare forward regret doing that today.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 17, 2010; 8:32 AM ET
Categories:  Polls  
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Like it or not, times they are a changing.

We are on an unsustainable path.

This article does a good job explaining the need for change....

HCR as written will not achieve the needed change. It is only a first, tiny step, and the actual change involves a proof that we can paradigm shift more than it does in any way the HC system will work in the future.

I suspect things will change so much in the next 10 years (because of further and impending tsunamis of economic and social pain) that the national health care scene 10 years from now will render the current bill as a historic footnote rather than it being the actual law of the land.

Obama's deficit commission, not this HCR effort, is actually the most significant political development in the last 20 years, because from it will sprout the much needed seeds of changes that will rock our world as we in the USA have never experienced before.

Hold on to your hats. Everything is about to change, and it will happen in ways no one can predict. SS, medicare, medicaid, federal vs state's rights, DOD budgets, farm subsidies, energy, carbon--everything is going to experience an 8.4 earthquake in the next decade. Party, and even ideological, lines will be blurred as we will no longer be able to differentiate liberal from conservative, blue state from red state, supply-side from demand-side. Policy and social changes will be a mish-mash of ideas from all corners of the political spectrum. It's already happening; it's hard to tell the difference between hard-left and hard-right anymore. They're both crazy and desperate and embrace the strangest conspiracy theories and notions about actual history.

If you can't handle stress very well, this would be a good time to move to Canada, because those socialist bastards sort of have it together.

Posted by: Lomillialor | March 17, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

This might sound morbid, E, but I wonder how many of the legislators who took the tough vote on Medicare are *alive* today to regret the vote or not?

Posted by: gmart68b | March 17, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Even those members of Congress who voted for Medicare back then, would be astonished at its cost today. The same will be true soon for the Obamacare abomination coming now.

Posted by: Trucker49 | March 17, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Of course they'd be astonished by Medicare's cost today. They'd also be astonished by the cost of private insurance. And how long people are living. And the diseases that we've been afflicted with and which we've afflicted on ourselfe. And that we've allowed healthcare costs to increase at insane rates and done little to nothing about it. And that income disparity is where it is today. Oh, and iPods.

There's a lot that would surprise people from the 60s, but that doesn't mean that they'd likely regret creating what has become a very popular program.

Posted by: MosBen | March 17, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

This is all a wasted discussion. HC in this country costs more than anywhere else for one reason only. We are the fattest, unhealthiest people of any developed country. Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are the major drivers of HC spending, and a high % of all 3 are preventable via lifestyle choices.

I don't care what form of financing you use, whether is single-payer, or consumer driven, its ALL going to be expensive when you have as unhealthy a population as we do in this country. No HCR is going to fix that problem.

Posted by: truth5 | March 17, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Trucker, cost is only an issue, in the absence of value.

Posted by: elijah24 | March 17, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse


thanks for the apology btw.

Glad to see you're on board that EVERYTHING needs to be cut and taxes need to be raised to make it sustainable for the long run (especially considering the looming baby boomers retirements).

That includes defense and entitlements.

I'm glad you noted that defense growth is dwarfed by entitlement growth (not even including this new one here.)

I hope this HCR happens AND saves money. I just find it hard to believe that Pharma has the best interest of the American public at heart when they consider a big time buy of $6 million in pro-reform ads. I wonder how much those ads are going to cost us. Will it be in the billions or trillions?

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 17, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

"I just find it hard to believe that Pharma has the best interest of the American public at heart"

Well that is because you are not stupid. Of course they don't have the best interest of the American public at heart, no publically traded corporation, or group of corporations, does. That is not what corporations are for. A corporations goal is to increase value for its shareholders. Indeed, if a corporation behaves in a manner that does not increase shareholder value the corporation's shareholders can sue said corporation.

Big Pharma is out for Big Pharma. If Bristol-Meyers Squib created a new drug that killed cancer and decided to give its formula out to the world for free it would be in court before any information changed hands. Guaranteed.

Posted by: nisleib | March 17, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I found a poll that showed 62% of those polled in favor of the bill in Jan '65. I looked up the vote for HR 6675 and found out that the senate approved 70 to 24 and the house approved 307 to 116. I'm wondering if the Obama administration is paying you or are you sucking up voluntarily?

Posted by: vitaglubet | March 17, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse


What apology?

If you search this blog, I think you will find comments from me advocating across the board spending cuts (all programs in equal percentages) coupled with tax raises.

Of course entitlements drawfs DOD spending. As it should be. Not to say DOD budget is too much though.

Posted by: Lomillialor | March 17, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Was crack cocaine popular when it first sold?

Probably not - it was probably considered dangerous. But now, those who are addicted to it have a hard time leaving it.

The US is addicted to Medicare and Social Security. Entitlement programs are addictions; they are not good things, they are simply hard to leave. We are entangled in our own safety nets, and need to get ourselves free.

Posted by: MKS1 | March 17, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse


We are addicted to SS and medicare because humans get old and sick. Do you understand the connection?

Insurers and Drs and hospitals are behaving like predators and bankrupting us all.

US health stats shows we are growing less healthy compared to other western countries.

We are also addicted to unlimited defense spending, war, interference in other nations business, and overall in borrow and spend polices brought in by Reagan.

There is no single major aspect of US domestic or foreign policy that is functioning in a sustainable manner. Everything is broken.

Posted by: Lomillialor | March 17, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

The cost for medical care will continue to rise, no matter what happens to the current version of the health care reform bill before Congress. The question is, who will foot the bill? Under the current system, even with Medicare and Medicaid, most of the cost will be born by those who have insurance or are paying for it until they go bankrupt. Much of that money will pay for the care of people without insurance and/or unable to pay. Tens of thousands are now losing everything they ever owned, even if they had insurance. That number will go up. Insurance companies will continue to make huge profits for their stock holders, further driving up costs.
If we decide to have insurance for everybody, insurance that cannot be canceled when expenses pass a certain level, the risk will be spread among the entire population. Of course, as long as we have private insurance companies that are in it for the profit, their profit will also go up. And yes, even healthy young people must be forced to take insurance. After all, nobody can drive a car without insurance and only buy a policy after an accident!
In most European countries, premiums are a certain percentage of income. That means people with higher incomes help to pay medical costs for low earners. This may seem unfair to some but isn't it the Christian thing to do? European plans have one huge disadvantage: Premiums are only paid on wages, not on unearned income. That drives the cost of labor up.
Sooner or later we will be forced to address the reasons why health care is getting so expensive. The population is getting older and medical science lets people live much longer. Many who would have died as recently as thirty years ago are now being kept alive for years if not decades. Organ transplants save people from certain death.
We have two choices: Either take full advantage of all means available to us to prolong life and pay for it, no matter what the cost, or start rationing certain expensive procedures. Yes, these are indeed death panels but they would be necessary with or without health care reform. Insurance companies are already making these decisions by refusal to pay for expensive procedures.

Posted by: schumann-bonn | March 17, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

The success of American entitlement programs is evidenced by the hatred that comes from those deluded and egotistical enough to believe they created all their success themselves. I'd almost be willing to go with a plan that allowed them to exempt themselves from the taxes and any future benefits, but most of them would be demanding to get back in for free within a decade anyway.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 17, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse


go check back to Monday night's reconciliation from Ezra. Remember the "discussion" we had where you called me an "idiot", inferred I had an IQ of 50 and accused me of intellectual dishonesty but instead you didn't post your link in the beginning of the discussion??


to be fair too we're also similarly addicted to lower taxes. We'll need BOTH entitlement reform and more taxes to get out of this mess. And that's even WITH what Lawrence O'Donnell referred to as the "largest tax increase in American History", otherwise known as HCR.

Make sure you stay tuned until the end of this where O'Donnell states about the bill:

it will increase taxes, increase the debt, not decrease medical costs, bankrupt the states, and not significantly improve anything

WOW. It sounds like Lawrence O'Donnell and AHIP are in total agreement.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 17, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

@schumann-bonn: "In most European countries, premiums are a certain percentage of income. That means people with higher incomes help to pay medical costs for low earners. This may seem unfair to some but isn't it the Christian thing to do?"

Depends on what kind of Christian you are - the kind that believes in and lives the spirit of what the bible teaches, or the kind that cherry picks passages to build the case that charity is wrong and wealth is blessed. The GOP's attempts to co-opt Christianity have resulted in a surprising number of the latter type in America. It's rather off-putting.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 17, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

People in the United States got old and sick prior to 1935 (Social Security) and 1965 (Medicare). They either provided for old age and sickness through private insurance and savings, or loved ones and people of real compassion provided for them. What we have now in "progressivism" is compulsion disguised as compassion.

And, having spent a good bit of time in nursing homes, I expect the quality of life for the old and sick before 1935 was comparable to now, except for technological improvements brought about through free market competition and innovation.

What people did not do prior to 1935 was to expect other people to pay for their care, as if they were entitled to that care.

They especially were not selfish enough to expect their children and grandchildren to be placed in debt by taxation without representation. Future generations can not vote for the Congressmen who are headed in such a crazy direction as those who now attempt to pass this current defective healthcare regulation.

Posted by: MKS1 | March 17, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

The socialist pukes like Klein never point out Medicare's unfunded liabilities are $38 TRILLION. Of course Medicare is popular. Who doesn't like it when someone else is paying your bills? But that doesn't make it successful.

You think its a success to have created a society dependent on an entitlement that there is absolutely no chance young people paying into the plan today will ever see the promises offered today fuliflled?

Why don't you morons ever talk about the fact that in 1990 the actual Medicare expenditures were 900% more than they were projected to be the bill initially passed about 25 years earlier? You call that success?

Enjoy your totalitrian socialist utopia while it lasts, becuase it's got about 5 years until China pulls the plug. Tops. I hope you rot in hell.

Posted by: Groty1 | March 17, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Groty1 - Take your meds.

Posted by: nisleib | March 17, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse


I normally don't agree with right wing trolls but he's got some valid points there.

and a lot of what he says Cramer and Lawrence O'Donnell agree with. Its tough when libs like O'Donnell agree what a mess this is going to be.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 17, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, no one should even bother to engage with Groty1 when he wishes his opponents to rot in hell. We shouldn't even get to his points before dismissing him.

As to the arguments that some are making about Medicare/Medicaid's functioning, that misses the point of the post, I think. The point is that Medicare/Medicaid were tough votes for politicians of that day but the programs have become much more popular now. The arguement is basically that legislators should ignore the polls, or at least keep in mind that the heat of the debate on these issues tends to fade after the bill is passed.

As for whether the bill will increase or decrease the deficit and/or overall spending on healthcare, well, I understand the new CBO score will be coming out today. I expect it will continue to show that the bill decreases the deficit over time, but if any other groups score the bill as deficit-increasing, I look forward to evaluating the reports on their merits.

Posted by: MosBen | March 17, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I also recall reading that as of 1990 Medicare costs 10 times more than the original estimate that was used when it was voted into law back in the 1960's. So it's not an issue of popularity, giving a lot of people free health insurance is bound to be popular with them since someone else is paying for it, but what can this country afford. Let me tell you what I believe. I don't believe the CBO estimates. I belive Obamcare will cost vastly more than it's projected. I also believe that more of our individual freedoms will disappear as the nanny state takes over more and more of our lives. I also believe that Obamacare will, as some Democrats have said, just be the toe in the door to a total government takeover of the entire American healthcare system. I belive that would be a catastrophy. I also believe I will coninue to urge by elected representatives, one of which is unfortunately a Democrat, to vote against this monstrosity.

Posted by: RobT1 | March 17, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse


I agree he shouldn't be engaged with and he shouldn't tell people to "rot in hell" just like some on here shouldn't call people "idiots" for not believing as they do. If we lose all civility then we have nothing. And he should also realize he has some valid points and he loses a lot by lowering himself to the standards that he does.

Yes we'll see what the CBO score says and I agree like you that it'll show that but then again I'd love to revisit this conversation 10 years from now and see where we're at. I'd also like someone, anyone to agree with me that insurers for all the blame they're getting (saw my first ad yesterday on CNN) are only saying that we need MORE focus on containing costs. They say that because they know that the current system is unsustainable and if we just add 30 million more people it'll only cause more problems down the road.

Either way we can't truly evaluate the reports on their merits today. It'll need to be evaluated 5, 10, 20+ years down the road. And yes I believe it will reduce the deficit in the long run but I also believe they could have done a heckuva lot more cost controls in return for 30 million more patients, prescription takers and new insureds.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 17, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

You said: "They especially were not selfish enough to expect their children and grandchildren to be placed in debt by taxation without representation. "

There are two factual errors here. first, Social Security was always intended for current workers to pay for current retirees. in other words, future generations pay for present-day retirees. The problem occured when the boomers came through. When Social Security started there were roughly 30 workers for each recipient of benefits. Now it is about 3 workers for each retiree. The boomer bulge is the big problem here.

Second, unless you live in D.C., what the heck are you referring to taxation without representation for? Again, unless you live in D.C., which has only one non-voting member of Congress, you have two Senators and one Representative. As far as I'm concerned, you don't know what you are talking about.

Posted by: Northstar1 | March 17, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me there are two ways to reduce health care costs. The first, is to get the federal government out of health care, a staggering amount of federal red tape and paperwork has increaded the cost of care. That issue needs to be addressed before aything else. Second, we can remove the profit motive from health insurance companies and hospitals and require that they all be not-for-profit operations and regulate the salaries of non-care giving executives in the healthcare industry. Private hospitals could be allowed, they just wouldn't qualify for insurance subsidized health care payments.

Posted by: WriterDude | March 17, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

WinterDude, Interesting. Operate healthcare like a public utility. (Yes, there are still some of us who were around when electric, water and gas companies were run for the public good and oversight was provided by public utility boards.)

Posted by: Northstar1 | March 17, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, I completely agree with your take on civility on the 'net, and it's definitely true for lefties around here as well as conservatives. That said, while I'm constantly chiding people for being pricks around here, it's important to recognize when people are actually fostering good debate, so kudos to you, sir.

I don't disagree that the bill could have and should done more to control costs. We can argue about why it doesn't, but that's neither here nor there for this discussion, I think.

I also appreciate your take on the CBO. I'm open to the possibility that their report will not accurately reflect the cost of this round of HCR, but what frustrates me is when people like RobT1 argue as if it's a matter of faith. If the CBO is doing this wrong I would love to see a comprehensive report that does it right. Instead, it seems like Republicans (and I'm sure Dems too) decry the CBO when they're in the minority but go right back to citing its reports when they're in the majority. Either the CBO does a good job (or the best job possible), or it doesn't. If they do a bad job they should be replaced, or their reports should be challenged by someone that does a good job.

Northstar1, I think he's referring to future generations being not represented in Congress as it increases the debt. Of course, that's insane. What about all those future liberals that want single payer? What about our future friends in the United Federation of Planets? Where is *their* representation? You can argue that it's bad policy to deficit spend at current levels (or hell, argue for deficit neutrality if you really want to), but resorting to "taxation without representation" is just lazy.

I'm intrigued by this idea of a "not-for-profit" system, but it would get much more complex really fast if you tried to implement it. Is there an individual mandate? If not, can the non-profits deny coverage for pre-existing conditions? If not, won't people just not buy insurance until they're sick?

How would this separate "private" system work? You say they wouldn't qualify for "subsidized healthcare payments", but I thought the government was out of healthcare at that point? I think these ideas have merit, but too often people come along with a big idea, whether for this or single payer or something else entirely, that will shake up the system, solve all its problems, and still somehow be the definition of simplicity. Healthcare is a complex problem and it's unlikely to be solved by a simple solution.

Posted by: MosBen | March 17, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

This is not Medicare. Everyone thinks the elderly should be covered in retirement. I object to the others including the 20 somethings who fall off Daddys policy and choose not to insure. Also people PAY INTO Medicare for decades before receiving benefits.

Posted by: dencal26 | March 17, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

After Pearl Harbor World War 2 got high polling approvals too. So then why did Ezra oppose Iraq?? Slightly different huh? Like Medicare vs Obamacare

Posted by: dencal26 | March 17, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse



What i will say from a slightly right of center perspective is the CBO (to my understanding) only estimates government costs. I may be wrong there and will gladly admit it if I am. CMS reports show costs going up. I'm not asking you to believe the PWC study the insurance industry put forth but i'd think CMS would be pretty fair and balanced. That said as I've said before I'd sign the senate bill today but I'd only take PART of the reconciliation. I'd get rid of the Cornhusker kickbacks, Louisiana etc.

I wouldn't touch the excise tax. Oh and I'd strengthen the individual mandate based upon what region of the country we're in. What's $250 to $750 for the Northeast is nothing compared to the South. Make it a percentage of last year's tax return. That'll make sure everyone's covered. Oh and I'd increase the subsidies too. No sense making people bankrupt from paying for health insurance because the government can't negotiate with the key players.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 17, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

@ RobT1: I also believe that Obamacare will, as some Democrats have said, just be the toe in the door to a total government takeover of the entire American healthcare system. I belive that would be a catastrophy.

HCR won't do this unfortunately. That is why it does such a bad job of controlling costs.

But why does every other advanced democracy have some form of government sponsored and/or heavily regulated health care system? Somehow they have all avoided catastrophe. And why is is it that not 1 advanced democracy would trade their health care system for the US system? Just askin'

Posted by: srw3 | March 17, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

@ MosBen: Healthcare is a complex problem and it's unlikely to be solved by a simple solution.

I don't think that this is so. There are probably very complex solutions (like the current HCR) and also very simple (but not necessarily easy) solutions, like increasing the medicare tax and offering medicare for all with subsidies for the poor and working poor. Eliminate Medicaid and have 1 system for everyone.

If you don't want more taxes, remember that a British NHS/VA style system could be theoretically implemented with real universal coverage for the total the US govt spends on health care now (half the people in the US get some kind of govt health care. Total govt spending per person in the us is about the amount per person that Brits pay to cover everyone.) It would be a bare bones (;-)) system, but it would provide some basic level of health care for everyone. If we boosted the amount per person about 20%, there would be pretty decent universal health care. For those who have the money and want the best, they could get it by paying more.

Posted by: srw3 | March 17, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

As usual, Klein is somewhat less than honest. Or, as Karl at Patterico's put it today in reference to Klein's post above, "Ezra Klein: Disingenuous partisan hack or incompetent researcher — you be the judge!"

Posted by: msoja | March 17, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Gosh. Klein, the alleged health care whiz, has been looking for the old polling data "for some time", while everyone else just Googles it up. Is Klein just a big brainless liar? Or is there more to it?

Tom Maguire, today, too, was less than
impressed with Klein's sort of mediocre sort of lying sort of moronic schmaltz.

Posted by: msoja | March 17, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse


when you talk of your solutions for medicare for all you don't discuss what kind of impact that will have on the number of doctors in the US. Do you think they'll readily give up their large incomes for the "greater good"? Some will for sure but many won't. The reason this legislation is required to be this difficult is that its a very difficult juggling game to keep all the parties onboard with it. The AMA, Pharma, AHA have all tempered their enthusiasm for this until they see the final product and how it affects each of their incomes. Sure you could jump all the way to single payer and for someone that doesn't have any care right now it would work for them but you'll hear from the large majorities in the employer market if they find their access to care go down. I'm not saying its right or wrong I'm just saying that you'll hear about it (I'm already hearing about it and it hasn't even happened yet).

I just wish that all those that would suggest this way (medicare for all) would also readily admit its negative sides.

Personally I love listening to Cspan radio and Washington Journal. Today there was a guy on that's in favor of the legislation and his big argument was "I have two kids in college going for masters degrees and I'd save money".

Well sure that's good for him. Does he think their cost is FREE? NO. Its just shifted somewhere else. DOes it work for him, yes but if he didn't have someone in that situation would he push for this so hard? Who knows.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 18, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse


Klein isn't a liar--he's just another in the tank for Obama "reporter".

Then next time Exra, shilling for Obama, tells us that ObamaCare will reduce the deficit remember this: When Congress passed Medicare in 1965, it estimated that its cost in 1990 (adjusted for inflation) would be $12 billion. Actual cost in 1990: $107 billion...........and rapidly approaching $500 billion today.

Posted by: hartwr1 | March 18, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

What b.s. Medicare was overwhelmingly popular when it was passed. Klein is misrepresenting what the polls showed back then. There was no "tough vote."

Posted by: mbs235 | March 18, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Of course Medicare is popular. It's a great system that works and which has a much lower overhead component than private insurers. It is hopelessly expensive compared to the systems used by other countries but that is because we have fee for service. Asking for cost containment and then compensating doctors to do the opposite is the real problem.

As I move toward retirement I feel no remorse in accepting Medicare as I have paid into the system all my working life but this does not make me feel good about it destroying out nation's economy.

The current HCR addresses just a subset of all the problems we face and, presumably, we will pursue cost containment more as time goes on. To fight HCR right now is simply crazy. Rapidly increasing costs of medicine and drugs, more baby boomers and for profit insurers that do nothing but pass on costs and restrict services will lead to financial disaster. Delay simply adds to the problem and maintaining the status quo just exacerbates the crisis we face.

Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go for it. Do what's right and history will reward you just as it has the original proponents of Medicare.

Posted by: Cataplasm | March 18, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

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