Edward Hospital in Naperville will on July 20 celebrate the first Medicare patient in American history:
A Chicago Tribune reporter informed 68-year-old Avery she would be the first citizen to have her bills paid under the then-new program. Her amused reply, “Oh boy! Now I can go to New York and get on the television program ‘I’ve Got A Secret.'”
It was no secret when Avery signed her Medicare forms in her hospital bed on July 1, 1966, the day the program went into effect for nearly 20 million Americans age 65 or older. In addition to front-page coverage in the Tribune, an Associated Press photographer snapped Avery’s picture, which made its way across the country and into numerous other newspapers and publications…
“Edward Hospital, birthplace of Medicare” is how Carlson wryly refers to the event. Carlson is the one who chose Avery for her distinction.
“The reason I was given the right to choose was that I was a member of the communications staff at the national Blue Cross Association,” Carlson said. He and the head of communications at the U.S. Social Security Administration coordinated Avery’s form-signing and photo opportunity.
Although Naperville was still a small town at the time – under 10,000 residents – this illustrates how social networks can help push small communities into the spotlight. Even large bureaucratic programs have to start somewhere and a personal connection between the Blue Cross Association and the Social Security Administration made this possible.
The article says the hospital will dedicate a plaque and hold a small ceremony to make the anniversary. Is this the best way to mark social welfare programs? How many people will know that the plaque exists and view it? The United States regularly crafts memorials for particular people, whether notable leaders (like the proposed Eisenhower memorial in Washington D.C.) or collections of soldiers, but doesn’t mark government programs as well. A memorial to the New Deal? The Monroe Doctrine? The Interstate Act? All of these were incredibly consequential yet it is more difficult to envision where and how these should be marked.