Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Operation Coffeecup and Socialized Medicine

Health care reform is today foremost in the minds of the public and politicians alike. It is, however, not a new concern, as evidenced by a new exhibit at the UNC Health Sciences Library which features the American Medical Association’s 1961 campaign, Operation Coffeecup. Led by the Woman’s Auxiliary to the American Medical Association, Operation Coffeecup was “an all-out effort to stimulate as many letters to Congress opposing socialized medicine and its menace as proposed in the King bill (HR 4222).”

Identical versions of the bill were introduced by Cecil King (D-CA) in the House of Representatives and Clinton Anderson (D-NM) in the Senate, and the bill was the latest in a series of legislative attempts to create a Medicare-type program. All were defeated until the Social Security Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965. President Truman was a guest at the ceremony and was presented with the first Medicare card (below); a video clip is available online.

Operation Coffeecup’s main tool of persuasion was a 33-1/3 rpm record entitled, “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine,” a copy of which was recently acquired by Special Collections at the Health Sciences Library. It contains two tracks: the title piece, delivered by Reagan, and “Socialized Medicine and You”; several documents were also inserted into a pocket in the album that were intended for the use of discussion leaders, including printed transcripts of the record's two tracks. Ronald Reagan [1911-2004] was a registered Democrat when this record was produced, though he switched his affiliation to the Republican Party in 1962 and had been a strong supporter of Dwight Eisenhower in the presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960.

The Problem,” as described by Operation Coffeecup on the album's inside cover, was:
The legislative chips are down. In the next few months Americans will decide whether or not this nation wants socialized medicine . . . first for its older citizens, soon for all its citizens. The pivotal point in the campaign is a bill currently before Congress. The King bill (HR 4222), another Forand-type bill, is a proposal to finance medical care for all persons on Social Security over 65, regardless of financial need, through the social security tax mechanism. Proponents admit the bill is a “foot in the door” for socialized medicine. Its eventual effect—across-the-board, government medicine for everyone!
The section "How Operation Coffeecup Works" enumerates the following headings as action items:
— Listen, Look
— Put on the Coffeepot
— Invite an Audience
— Talk about What You Heard
— Spur Action
— Don’t Stop Now
“Each letter you help send off is a step along the way toward stopping socialized medicine. So join the Coffeecup Corps today!”

Related online resources include an essay, “Operation Coffeecup: Ronald Reagan’s Effort to Prevent the Enactment of Medicare,” and a YouTube recording of the text “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine” (note that the first two paragraphs of Reagan's text are not included on this particular recording).

In addition, the American Medical Association Historical Archives contains a Medicare Campaign collection (record group MDC), which includes materials related to Operation Coffeecup and other AMA public relations efforts from 1960-1965; the collection is described as follows:
History Note: The Medicare public relations campaign constitutes the AMA's efforts in response to the proposed passage of the King-Anderson bill in Congress since 1960. The AMA staged numerous public relations efforts to amend passage of the bill before Congress. Congress passed the bill in 1965, creating Medicare.

Scope Note: Many of the highlights in the AMA's history are documented here, such as excerpts from Operation Coffee Cup featuring Ronald Reagan, the nationally televised script of AMA president Dr. Annis speaking before Madison Square Garden in 1964 and other interviews. Also included are files and newsletters related to the AMA's position on the bill and about socialized medicine.
Infomation on how to use the AMA Historical Archives is available online. Only AMA members have access to the archives, with the exception of the Historical Health Fraud Collection, which may be used by non-members on a fee-for-service basis. A descriptive summary of more than 50 collections is available for download.

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