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The American Medical Association (AMA), in conjunction with many Congressional Republicans and some Democrats, attempts to beat back attempts to create a new government-run program to provide medical care for the elderly, to be called “Medicare.” The AMA and its political allies have fought the idea of a government-provided health care program for senior citizens since 1945, when then-President Harry Truman first suggested universal health care for all Americans.
Minimal 'Eldercare' Considered Too Much - Currently, a modest health care program for senior citizens, called “Eldercare,” is the only government coverage American seniors have. It is based on a compromise proposal written by conservative Democratic Senator Robert Kerr (D-OK) and Representative Wilbur Mills (D-AR) and signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower. Eldercare provides government benefits only for senior citizens who can demonstrate economic need, and states that choose not to participate in the program can opt out entirely. However, the AMA considers even this truncated program far too invasive, and fiercely opposes the more sweeping “Medicare” proposal, called King-Anderson after its main authors, Senator Clinton Anderson (D-NM) and Representative Cecil King (D-CA). The legislation is mired in Congressional committees. (Time 2/19/1965; Larry DeWitt 9/2004)
WHAM - The opposition to King-Anderson is led by the Women’s Auxilary of the AMA, which is given the task of coordinating the WHAM program—Women Help American Medicine. WHAM is directly dedicated to defeating the King-Anderson bill in Congress, “a bill which would provide a system of socialized medicine for our senior citizens and seriously curtail the quality of medical care in the United States.” The public campaign consists of the usual rallies and advertisements, most funded by corporate lobbyists working for the AMA and other health care firms. WHAM accuses King-Anderson proponents of being “socialists” and warns of federal bureaucrats violently invading “the privacy of the examination room.” WHAM coordinates an extensive grassroots effort under the rubric of “Operation Hometown,” enlisting local medical societies to speak out against King-Anderson, and providing pamphlets, reprints of press releases and articles, and talking points to local physicians.
Operation Coffeecup - Operation Coffeecup is a less visible, but just as important, element of the WHAM campaign. It centers around a series of “coffee klatches,” or “impromptu” get-togethers in kitchens and living rooms across America, hosted by WHAM members. WHAM members are told to downplay the significance of the events. One instruction tells them to portray the events as nothing more than “spontaneous” neighborhood get-togethers: “Drop a note—just say ‘Come for coffee at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. I want to play the Ronald Reagan record for you.’” The attendees are shown how to write equally “spontaneous” letters to members of Congress opposing the King-Anderson bill. The letters are carefully constructed to give the appearance of real, unsolicited missives written by concerned Americans, not the product of an orchestrated lobbying effort. Each WHAM member uses a 10-point checklist to ensure that the letters cover the points needed to make the argument against King-Anderson, and are not full of boilerplate, obviously copied-over material. The program is deliberately kept quiet, for fear that the media will portray it as an attempt to manipulate public opinion.
Reagan on Vinyl - The centerpiece of the Operation Coffeecup material is a vinyl LP entitled Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine (see 1962). The album is a 19-minute recording featuring an 11-minute address by Reagan, followed by an eight-minute follow-up by an announcer. WHAM members are assured that Reagan’s work for the organization is unpaid and voluntary, though they are not told that his father is a top AMA executive. Instead, they are told Reagan is motivated entirely by his sincere political convictions. The hope is that Reagan’s message will inspire legions of housewives to write letters demanding that King-Anderson be defeated. The AMA claims that Operation Coffeecup prompts a “legion” of responses. (Larry DeWitt 9/2004)
Exposed - In June 1962, investigative reporter Drew Pearson exposes Operation Coffeecup in his newspaper column. Pearson writes: “Ronald Reagan of Hollywood has pitted his mellifluous voice against President Kennedy in the battle for medical aid for the elderly. As a result it looks as if the old folks would lose out. He has caused such a deluge of mail to swamp Congress that congressmen want to postpone action on the medical bill until 1962. What they don’t know, of course, is that Ron Reagan is behind the mail; also that the American Medical Association is paying for it.… Reagan is the handsome TV star for General Electric.… Just how this background qualifies him as an expert on medical care for the elderly remains a mystery. Nevertheless, thanks to a deal with the AMA, and the acquiescence of General Electric, Ronald may be able to outinfluence the president of the United States with Congress.” (Larry DeWitt 9/2004; Beutler 8/25/2009)
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