Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month with a specific theme. The 2022 theme is “Black Health and Wellness,” which presents a perfect opportunity to remind people of the impact Medicare had on desegregating American Hospitals.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, stated that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Thus, Medicare created an important financial and social change tool toward the integration of hospitals when it began in 1965.
As a Federal program affecting every hospital in the country, Medicare offered immense financial leverage. Any hospital that wished to be reimbursed by Medicare for the usually-uncompensated care for their oldest, and sickest patients was suddenly subject to the Civil Rights Act. According to former Center for Medicare Advocacy Senior Policy Attorney Alfred Chiplin, the administration used this leverage particularly effectively in opening the door to hospital privileges for African-American physicians, in addition to its being a major tool in creating access to basic hospital and other health care services for African-American citizens throughout the nation, particularly in Southern states.
For more information, see the National Institutes of Health Study “The Federal Government’s Use of Title VI and Medicare to Racially Integrate Hospitals in the United States, 1963 Through 1967,” by P. Preston Reynolds, MD, PhD. See also, The Power to Heal, a film by BLBFilmProductions, which tells the story through the voices of the men and women who experienced, and fought, the disparities of segregation.