The most significant health reform in American history was the passage of Medicare in 1965, but this was an accomplishment born of defeat. Medicare was designed and understood by its early promoters as an approach to health reform, not simply as a discrete program for a distinct target population. Although Medicare incrementalism has tended to be shunted aside when the opportunities for health reform are most promising, the final years of the Johnson administration reveal previously underappreciated efforts to expand Medicare eligibility to large new population groups and offer insights into the continuing potential of Medicare incrementalism in our own time.

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