Tom Coburn: America Was Better Off Before Medicare

Tom Coburn is really on a roll this summer. He has suggested that taking care of the elderly is unconstitutional, speculated that President Obama is created a culture of dependency because of his race and now Kevin Drum notices that ‘s even said that American health care system was better off before Medicare was enacted in 1965:

He went on to say that government programs such as Medicare are primarily responsible for rapidly rising health-care costs, and that Medicare has made the medical system worse.

You can’t tell me the system is better now than it was before Medicare,” he said.

Coburn agreed that some people received poor care — or no care — before Medicare was enacted in the 1960s, but said communities worked together to make sure most people received needed medical attention.

He also conceded that doctors and hospitals often went unpaid for their efforts, or accepted baked goods or chickens in partial payment.

Here are the facts: since 1965, “the health of the elderly population has improved, as measured by both longevity and functional status,” and senior poverty rates have plummeted. According to a study from Health Affairs, life expectancy at age 65 increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 17.8 years in 1998 and the chronically disabled elderly population declined from 24.9 percent in 1982 to 21.3 percent in 1994.”


Prior to Medicare, “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.

And so, the system isn’t only “better off” with Medicare, but the program is so popular that seniors continue to support it in overwhelming majorities and would expand it to younger populations.