Potential vice president running mate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) dismissed the importance of programs like Medicare and Social Security during a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library this afternoon, arguing that the initiatives “weakened us as people”:
These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of a sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government’s job.
Americans may have certainly taken care of each other in the absence of formalized access to affordable health care, but that support did little to drastically ameliorate the fears and anxieties of seniors. As Ted Marmor explains in The Politics of Medicare, “The biggest fears included not being able to pay for care and risking turning to children or siblings for help, or it meant relying on the charitable attitude of the doctor or hospital. Most profoundly, it was the sense that illness or injury — bad enough themselves — could be disastrous for family finances unless you were lucky enough to have retiree coverage from a union or government plan.”
Indeed, prior to Medicare’s enactment in 1965, “about one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance,” “more than one in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns,” and one in three seniors were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.