How Social Security Helped Desegregate America’s Hospitals

February 19, 2021 • By

SSA Commissioner Andrew SaulAs we celebrate Black History Month, I want to share an incredible story. Back in the ‘60s, the Social Security Administration (SSA) played a vital role in desegregating hospitals in America.

On November 19, 1945, President Harry Truman proposed a national healthcare plan to Congress. He viewed healthcare as a basic human right, saying, “Our new Economic Bill of Rights should mean health security for all, regardless of residence, station, or race–everywhere in the United States.” However, it wasn’t until July 30, 1965, that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare Act into law. President Johnson held the signing ceremony at the Truman Presidential Library, with President Truman and First Lady Truman looking on.

When the Medicare Act was implemented on July 1, 1966, many hospitals were still segregated, which did not align with the new Medicare law. If hospitals wanted to receive federal Medicare dollars, they had to desegregate. Social Security Commissioner Robert M. Ball coordinated a team of hundreds of federal employees and grassroots volunteers to ensure hospital compliance with desegregation. SSA employees walked through hospitals to verify that compliance. In a matter of months, the federal government took an important step towards ending the practice of segregating patients and doctors.

In an April 3, 2001 interview with the Social Security Historian’s Office, former Commissioner Ball remembered, “By the time we reached the deadline, we had 1,000 federal employees out in the field visiting these hospitals, because we had decided that we were not going to take anybody’s word for how they were going to desegregate. We were only going to let them in the Medicare program and pay them if they had actually desegregated. If in fact, we had inspected and seen it. That meant that in semi-private rooms in the South, for example, people of these two races who had been separate all their lives, were to be assigned beds as they came into the hospital. And if that meant a black and a white sharing a room, that was how it had to be.”

We are extremely proud of the role that SSA had in the Medicare Act implementation and hospital desegregation. SSA strives to continue this legacy by treating the public with fairness, equality, and compassion.



Andrew Saul is Commissioner of the Social Security Administration


For more information on Medicare, and to read Commissioner Ball’s full interview, go to and




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About the Author

Andrew Saul, Commissioner, Social Security Administration

Andrew Saul, Commissioner, Social Security Administration

Commissioner of Social Security Administration


Please review our Comment Policy before leaving a comment.

  1. Paula

    Question. If you leave your husband. and want a name change back to your maiden name, you have to go through the court system. There was never a divorce That I know.
    Now if that said husband dies, do you have to go through the court system or can you just go back to your maiden name since he no longer exist? Where do we find the answer to this.

    • Vonda

      Hi Paula, thanks for using our blog. If you legally change your name through the courts, check out our Frequently Asked Questions web page on how to change your name with Social Security. All submitted documents must be either originals or certified copies by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. We hope this helps!

    • John J OMalia

      Seek legal aid.

    • Deborah Stephens

      Because your name was legally changed with the marriage certificate, you still have to go through the court system for a change back to your maiden name even though there was no divorce and he just died. Your name doesn’t change automatically and you have to request the charge via the court. It’s not expensive and more time consuming with the various steps involved. The process is written out when you fill out the court’s filing form and you don’t need a lawyer to do it as long as you have reading and comprehension capabilities.

  2. John J OMalia

    Little known information. The Feds actually took desegregation seriously. Such situations were not just a problem in the South.

  3. About Creativity

    Thank you.

  4. Iacob

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  6. azure

    Medicare is NOT a national health care program. It provides health insurance to a limited number of people: those over 65 and those who have received monthly cash SSDI (Social Security disability insurance) benefits for 24 months, people w/end stage renal disease, &, I think ALS.

    Those categories exclude millions of people. Commissioner Saul’s implication is an obvious error.

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  8. Gloria Acevedo

    En mí certificado de nacimiento tengo el nombre completo, como el primer nombre, el segundo nombre y los apellidos de mis padres. Siempre he escrito el segundo nombre pero en inicial y ahora me piden que lo escriba como aparece en el certificado de nacimiento. es para sacar la licencia de conducir que se me venció. Que puedo hacer para el seguro social y otros papeles.


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