How Medicare Helped Desegregate Hospitals 50-Years Ago

1 Posted by - January 20, 2018 - LATEST POSTS

President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation that created 50 years ago. The legislation that would change the lives of America’s seniors greatly. However, just what did the legislation mean for African-American people. Medicare became a force for civil rights because the Civil Rights Act was signed just a year before, and it now barred federal funding for institutions that discriminated on the basis of race. For hospitals, the fear of losing federal funds became a powerful motivator. As with anything African-American people had to fight just be treated fairly even with the big legislation change.

Temple University professor David Barton Smith says “it wasn’t just how the law was written, it was how it was enforced. After the legislation was signed, there were tiny staff team member official inspectors who would go around and remove signs that said white and colored. They would go back again and insist that hospital employees and patients not self-segregate the waiting rooms. And they had an invisible army in the sense of local civil rights groups that would guide them in their inspections, including a lot of black health workers that helped in providing the eyes and ears for making sure that the hospitals were not just trying to cover everything.

As soon as Medicare was implemented there were a lot of Black Americans able to go to the hospital. It was something for the African-Americans to be able to lay in the hospital and share a room with a White person. Within a few months of Johnson signing the legislation over 2,000 hospitals had desegregated.

When Johnson signed the bill, he did so alongside an aging Harry Truman, who two decades before that, had become the first sitting president to pursue universal health care seriously. The dream that Truman and Johnson had for the nation’s elderly didn’t quite live up to their expectations. They thought that seniors would be able to save for their later years. However, if you look around today, there are plenty of seniors of all races desperately watching every penny, and concerned whether or not they will become a burden on their older children.


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