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Most people know Medicare as one of the most successful social programs in our country’s history for its impact on the health of our older citizens and those with disabilities. But did you know that the Medicare program was key to integrating 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.”

Medicare, in 1965, created an important financial and social change tool toward the integration of hospitals. 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 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 it 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.

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