In 1945, President Harry S. Truman called on Congress to establish a national health insurance plan. After two decades of debate, in which opponents warned of the dangers of socialized medicine, Medicare was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, as part of his "Great Society."
Truman became the first to enroll in the program and the premium was $3 per month.
In the years since, Medicare benefits have been revised many times. But this week lawmakers proposed the most sweeping reforms of the health care plan since the program was established. And for many rural Americans, the changes could be just what the doctor ordered.
The top Senate Finance Committee lawmakers, both with significant rural constituencies, unveiled a bi-partisan plan for Medicare this week that would earmark billions of dollars for rural hospitals, doctors and other health care providers.
The legislation sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana would extend prescription drug benefits to seniors, and equalize funding rates for rural and urban health care facilities.
Many rural states, including Grassley's home state of Iowa, receive lower Medicare reimbursement rates than states comprised of larger, urban populations. Grassley has pledged that no bill would go to the president until the rural equity issue is resolved.
The bipartisan measure is expected to fuel the most wide-ranging debate since the ill-fated Clinton health care plan in the 90's.
Preident George W. Bush: "...And so I've come her today to remind Congress that Congress has an obligation and a responsibility to meet the needs of our seniors."
President Bush renewed his campaign for Medicare reforms, calling on Congress to have the landmark bill on his desk by the 4th of July.
Currently, 40 million elderly and disabled Americans rely on Medicare, for at least a portion of their health insurance needs.