Annual Meeting Preview: Power to Heal: Medicare and the Civil Rights Revolution

This session takes place on Thursday, April 4 at the 2019 OAH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia 

• Vanessa Burrows, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
• Barbara Berney, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy
• David Smith, Medical History

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Film Screening: Power To Heal: Medicare And The Civil Rights Revolution

Medicare revolutionized U.S. health care. By minimizing the burden of medical expenses for patients, it dramatically improved access and quality of care for millions of elderly Americans. And by attaching health benefits to senior citizenship, it made health care a basic civil right. But, often unrecognized is that Medicare also transformed health care by rooting out racial segregation in hospitals. Medicare was designed to pay for care for virtually every U.S. resident over the age of sixty-five, and, since older people get sick in disproportionate numbers—and before Medicare were largely uninsured—Medicare promised to represent about one-third of hospitals’ revenue and approximately 10 percent of health care expenses nationwide.

Hospitals could not afford to turn it down. To be certified as eligible to receive Medicare payments, hospitals had to meet both health and safety and civil rights rules. These protocols set new standards for all participating hospitals. At this critical point in the development of the U.S. health care system, Johnson’s administration enforced a national standard for equal health opportunity, making certain that before hospitals would be eligible to receive Medicare funds they would have to demonstrate compliance with the nondiscrimination standards of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination against patients or staff in any part of a medical facility. This insistence on nondiscriminatory hospital care as a pillar of the Great Society’s expanded social safety net brought lifesaving medical care to millions of African Americans of all ages, and represented a monumental victory in health equity and racial justice.

The momentous coordinated effort required to desegregate thousands of hospitals across the USA practically overnight is highlighted in the film Power to Heal: Medicare and the Civil Rights Revolution which will be shown in this session. The story is largely told by participants in never before heard first person accounts.

The film will be followed by a lively Q and A with Vanessa Burrows, Associate Producer of the film and historian whose article on this topic (co-authored with Producer Barbara Berney) appears in the current issue of JAH, and David Barton Smith, public health historian who appears in the film and has written books on this subject (Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare, and the Struggle to Transform America's Health Care System and Health Care Divided: Race and Healing a Nation). This film is important now as Medicare for All is debated while equity and Medicare are under threat. Come discuss what we can learn from this historical struggle.

We invite you to come by Bullfrog Film’s (the distributor) exhibit booth (313) during the opening reception, Thursday April 4 starting at 6:00 in the exhibit hall, to talk with Drs. Burrows and Smith.


Posted: March 20, 2019
Tagged: Conference, Previews