Was the rollout of Social Security this problematic? Yes, in fact, it was!
Not many Americans still living can recall the launch of the Social Security System back in the 1930s, and fewer still have even read about the problems that arose on that occasion.
It would do us all well to realize that Obamacare is not the first ambitious federal program to encounter bumps along the road to getting it up and running.
Toward that end, there are two helpful articles.
As the Social Security Bulletin recounted on the program’s 75th anniversary, “Keeping a record of each individual’s lifetime earnings was an unprecedented task, and the technology to support this Herculean effort did not even exist.” That the government did it is now seen by historians as “amazing” accomplishment. But when snags arose, people at the time had no idea that would be the case.
An “early crisis,” recalled the Bulletin, was the “John Doe” problem: “Many employers reported earnings without providing a worker’s name or SSN [Social Security number]. The first report from the Bureau of Internal Revenue did not contain SSNs for about 12 percent of the wage items—and this rapidly increased in subsequent reports”…
In other words, as the former Chair recounted later, “They said that millions of people would never get their benefits.”
None of that was borne out. The Social Security Board figured out new procedures to extract information from employers and cut down on the John Does. The Board was not “junked.” It was reorganized into the Social Security Administration seven years later, though that was no shakeup, as the Chair of the old board was kept on as the first Administrator. He wasn’t punished because there were some early problems; he was kept on because he dealt with the inevitable problems…
It’s worth noting that the John Doe problem was not solved in one fell swoop, but gradually diminished over time. In all likelihood, the HealthCare.gov problems will be whittled away at too. And just like with Social Security, they will become an obscure historical footnote.
And THIS ONE:
As some Republicans gloat over the technical hiccups of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, the glitches aren’t exactly unprecedented.
In his Huffington Post article, “Obamacare Not the First New Program To Have Launch Problems,” Arthur Delaney reminds us of the many challenges social security experienced when it was first introduced.
Allison Linn, in her CNBC article, “Obamacare fight vs. birth of social security: Which was uglier?” adds Medicare to the mix. Neither program was welcomed with open arms.
Social security critics of the time likened the move to socialism, which was a very dirty word for many during that era. Robin Toner’s 2007 New York Times article, “New Deal For a New Era,” which tackled health care while Obama was on the campaign trail, lobbying for the first term of his present job, points out an exchange on Capitol Hill as the idea of Social Security was taking form that Linn also highlights in her article.
“Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, Democrat of Oklahoma, put it bluntly when Frances Perkins, the secretary of labor, testified on Capitol Hill that year about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan for a new program called Social Security.”
‘Isn’t this socialism?’ Senator Gore demanded. When Ms. Perkins denied it, he asked again: ‘Isn’t this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?’”
Today it may be hard to imagine “socialism” as an evil threat but, at the time, many politicians feared the systems being implemented in Western Europe would take hold in the U.S. And this was a bad move in their eyes. Healthcare was so daunting a task that Toner notes even “Harry Truman tried but failed to deliver a national health insurance program.” Of course Bill Clinton also failed to implement his healthcare plan. So, in that respect, that Obama has even gotten this far is a triumph, even if at this moment of government shutdowns and website mishaps it’s hard to discern.
Technical difficulties, as Delaney emphasizes in his article, are not unique to Obamacare. Social security’s difficulties seemed far more insurmountable at the time. “It wasn’t easy,” writes Delaney. “After Congress passed the Social Security Act in 1935, a nascent Social Security Board faced a daunting task: enrolling 26 million industrial workers in less than a year, and another 2.5 million each year after that. One major problem: A lot of people had the same name.”
For many, that reality made Social Security impossible to implement. Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential nominee whom F.D.R. defeated by a landslide, called social security a “cruel hoax” and “fraud on the workingman.” Eventually, as Nancy Altman documents in her 2005 book, The Battle for Social Security, that problem was solved by devising the numerical system that created Social Security numbers.
With that hurdle cleared, another one popped up. “But how to reach the workers?” writes Delaney. Altman, whose book he quotes, explains that “‘Letter carriers delivered applications for numbers, helped people fill out the forms, answered questions about the program, returned the forms to typing centers where the cards could be produced, delivered the cards to the workers, and transmitted the applications of workers together with their newly-assigned Social Security numbers to [headquarters in] Baltimore.’”
Linn notes that Medicare was opposed by the American Medical Association, Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. “In 1961,” writes Linn, “the future president recorded a speech in which he painted a dark picture of a time in which doctors would be told by the government which patients they could see, and where.
If his listeners didn’t oppose Medicare, he warned, the medical plan would be followed by ‘other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country.’”
Much like Dr. Ben Carson’s ridiculous claim that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” eagan argued that if Medicare was implemented “. . . one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
So, in that respect, the Republicans are using an old script. Thankfully history seems to be in Obama’s favor. If Social Security and Medicare made it all the way through to implementation, there is little reason to believe that the Affordable Care Act will not follow suit. And the reality is: it has to.
[G]litches and all, Obamacare, despite Republican strong arm tactics, will prevail because, like social security and Medicare before it, the need is far greater than the opposition.