When on July 30, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law at the Harry S. Truman Library, he told the nation that it had “all started with the man from Independence.” Harry S. Truman, Johnson said, had “planted the seeds of compassion and duty” that led to the enactment of Medicare, a national health insurance for the aged through an expanded Social Security system.
Truman was the first president to publicly endorse a national health insurance program. As a Senator Truman had become alarmed at the number of draftees who had failed their induction physicals during World War II. For Truman these rejections meant that the average citizen could not afford visiting a doctor to maintain health. He stated “that is all wrong in my book. I am trying to fix it so the people in the middle-income bracket can live as long as the very rich and the very poor.”
Truman’s first proposal in 1945 provided for physician and hospital insurance for working-aged Americans and their families. A federal health board was to administer the program with the government retaining the right to fix fees for service, and doctors could choose whether or not to participate. This proposal was defeated after, among many factors, the American Medical Association labeled the president’s plan “socialized medicine” taking advantage of the public’s concern over communism in Russia.
Even though he was never able to create a national health care program, Truman was able to draw attention to the country’s health needs, have funds legislated to construct hospitals, expand medical aid to the needy, and provide for expanded medical research. In honor of his continued advocacy for national health insurance, Johnson presented Truman and his wife Bess with Medicare cards number one and two in 1966.