How are you feeling? Need to visit a doctor? There is lots of debate about the current state of medical programs and insurance programs in this country. It is easy to forget that we had very little in the way of support for folks, including senior citizens, who could not afford doctor visits in the early 1960s. A historian and sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania named Rosemary Stevens wrote, “in the early 1960s, the choices for uninsured elderly patients needing hospital service were to spend their savings, rely on funding from their children, seek welfare (and the social stigma this carried), hope for charity from the hospitals or avoid care altogether.”
On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill and it went into effect in 1966. Here is a clip of the President signing the bill at the President Harry S. Truman Library. President Truman attended because he had worked towards enacting this kind of program 20 years earlier:
In San Francisco in 1967, to offer help to the thousands of young people who arrived for the Summer of Love, a group of doctors created the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics. It was the first free medical clinic in the country. Two years later, Walden House was created to focus on helping people with drug and alcohol addiction. These two programs are a part of the legacy of compassion from San Francisco in the 1960s. Today, they are still operating under a new name, HealthRight 360 – http://www.healthright360.org/about These two programs merged in 2011 and are national models for community healthcare.
If you have ever wondered if all of this effort to provide free healthcare is worth the trouble, here are three people who credit the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics and Walden House with saving their lives: