5 Historical Facts About Medicare That May Surprise You

Let's Play Medicare Jeopardy!

Facts About Medicare
You may be surprised by these Medicare facts. Sappington Todd / Getty Images

The Medicare program has a rich and controversial history. How much do you know about the U.S. healthcare system? These historical facts may help you win your next trivia game or Jeopardy! match.  

1. The first Medicare beneficiary was a United States president.

Many people think of President Lyndon B. Johnson when they think of Medicare. After all, Johnson signed the program into law in 1965. The leg work, however, belonged to former President Harry S.

Truman several terms earlier. To honor his contributions, Johnson has referred to Truman as the "daddy of Medicare". As a result, President Truman was the first enrollee in the Medicare program.

2. Medicare helped to end racial segregation.

The Social Security Amendments of 1965 did more than bring Medicare into existence. It used its weight to target racism. Medicare reimbursements would only go to hospitals that were fully integrated. At the time Medicare was signed into law, many southern hospitals still were segregated. Enforcement of the law assured that equal rights to people of color would finally come to fruition, at least in health care.

3. Ronald Reagan and the American Medical Association were Medicare's arch nemesis.

In 1961, Ronald Reagan, an actor at the time, made a radio appearance on behalf of the American Medical Association declaring the ills of socialized medicine and what would later become Medicare.

 In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, then President of the United States, had a change of heart when he actually accepted and expanded Medicare benefits with the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. The act added outpatient prescription drug coverage as a benefit but the act was repealed within a year. Medicare Part D would not come along to add the drug benefit again until 2006.

4. Medicare does not offer the best health care in the world.

Medicare offers quality care but it still lags behind healthcare systems in other countries. The World Health Organization ranked the United States healthcare system as 37th out of 190 countries. A study by The Commonwealth Fund placed the United States eleventh out of eleven developed countries. We still have a lot to offer but we have a long way to go.

5. Medicare and the pedometer are the same age.

Medicare celebrated its 50th birthday in 2015, making it younger than alkaline batteries, pacemakers, plasma television and silicone breast implants; the same age as Nice and Easy hair coloring, Kevlar, pedometers and soft contact lenses; and older than bar-code scanners, hand-held calculators, Polaroid, and smoke detectors.


Aaronson WE, Zinn JS, and Rosko MD. The success and repeal of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act: a paradoxical lesson for health care reform. J Health Polit Policy Law. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7860967.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Tracing the History of CMS Programs: From President Theodore Roosevelt to President George W. Bush. https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/agency-information/history/downloads/presidentcmsmilestones.pdf. Accessed March 4, 2016.

The Commonwealth Fund. US Health System Ranks Last Among Eleven Countries on Measures of Access, Equity, Quality, Efficiency, and Healthy Lives. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/press-releases/2014/jun/us-health-system-ranks-last. Published June 16, 2014. Accessed March 4, 2016.

Langford, E. Medical Care Costs for the Aged: First Findings of the 1963 Survey of the Aged, July 1964 Bulletin. Social Security Administration. http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v27n7/v27n7p3.pdf. Accessed March 4, 2016.

Ubel P. Medicare And The Desegregation Of American Hospitals. Forbes. January 30, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterubel/2014/01/30/medicare-and-the-desegregation-of-american-hospitals/#63c27bad4378. Accessed March 4, 2016.

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