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.
Apparently the gubernatorial race in Maine has included discussions about how welfare provided by the government might be defined differently:
“Essentially, we all get welfare in some fundamental form or another,” said Luisa Deprez, a sociology professor at the University of Maine.
Unemployment, Social Security, school lunches, subsidized college loans and even federal tax refunds can be considered forms of public assistance, according to those who favor a broader definition.
In the context of the gubernatorial campaign, however, welfare has been discussed in its more common, narrow definition: public anti-poverty programs that help provide basic needs, such as food and shelter.
I’ve other studies that suggest the public favors government intervention more when it is called something like “government assistance” as opposed to “welfare.”
This is a reminder that there are very few people who really want no government involvement in the lives of individuals. In reality, people who are supposedly at different ends of the political spectrum are debating how much government should be involved. How many people, of any political persuasion, are willing to completely give up unemployment benefits, Social Security, or Medicare?
Gallup reports that a majority of Americans see entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, creating large financial problems for the country in 25 years. Yet, a poll from several months ago showed that Americans did not support some of the main options for helping the finances of Social Security developed by the Congressional Budget Office.
I always find this to be an interesting situation: people agree something should be done but the available options do not appeal to a majority. Looking for and then applying patterns from situations where solutions are developed would seem to be worthwhile. Are there sociological studies that address this?
Whoever can find a way through this will be deserving of lots of credit. Complicating the issue is the generation gap: issues like Social Security and Medicare tend to fire up older voters, who vote in larger proportions already.