Medicare turns 50 with vigor in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas quoted the a cappella singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, saying, “We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes.”

He spoke at a huge gathering of activists on Thursday, celebrating Medicare’s 50th birthday at Los Angeles Trade Tech College in downtown L.A. Large contingents of retirees and labor union members, especially nurses and health care workers, filled the huge outdoor tent. Some 60 community and labor organizations signed on to the Medicare Turns 50 LA Coalition.

The slogan of the day was “Medicare: As American as Apple Pie.” PIE was spelled out into the acronym Protect, Improve, and Expand Medicare. Delicious slices of apple pie were offered to everyone, and some whole pies were raffled off. 

Other speakers piled onto the theme: Celebrate 50 years, yes! But also, look forward and address the major health care crisis that affects the other 80 percent of the population not on Medicare or Medicaid.

Rusty Hicks, secretary-treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, pointed out how much of what gets stumbled over at the labor-management bargaining table has to do with health care. If America had Medicare for All, he said, we could secure “a better benefit package for everybody.”

Dr. Paul Song, leader in the Courage Campaign, Campaign for a Healthy California, and Physicians for a National Health Program, called our present health care system in the U.S. “deleterious, mischievous, and simply immoral.” Some 35,000 people die every year in the U.S. because they don’t have insurance. Contrary to the conservative claim, he said, it’s not the government that gets between you and your doctor, it’s private insurance. Insurance agents who have never treated a patient in their lives, deny critical coverage with a poke at a computer keyboard. “Such a waste of time and energy, when this thing should have been settled years ago,” he said.

And yet, we must push on, said a parade of speakers. “Make health care for all of us a top priority,” said Calif. State Senator Holly Mitchell.

Well-known actor/activist Mike Farrell told the crowd, “We are infested by liars, cheaters, and thieves in our political life,” and went on to read portions of the letter President Harry S Truman sent to Congress in November 1945 which called for a national, universal system offering “health security for all.” Truman never achieved his goal, but when President Johnson signed the Medicare bill 20 years later, Truman received the first card.

Richard Montoya, lead actor of the L.A.-based comedy group Culture Clash, emceed the afternoon. Other entertainers included the Billionaires, a quintet of top-hatted, tuxedoed, and gowned singers offering satirical pro-ruling class parodies; and violinist/vocalist/composer Lili Haydn and her band. The afternoon closed out with their song containing this refrain for the audience to sing along: “More love, more light. Darkness don’t stand a chance against us.”

Photo: Eric A. Gordon/PW


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.