Arthur E. Hess, 89, lawyer, served as 1st director of Medicare program

November 21, 2005|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Arthur E. Hess, a lawyer who became the first director of the Medicare program and served as acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration in 1973, died of complications from dementia Tuesday at his Charlottesville, Va., home. He was 89.

Mr. Hess, who lived in Baltimore from 1943 to 1982, was an architect of the Medicare program that provides health insurance for millions of seniors. He is widely credited with expanding federal government benefits programs during the 1960s.

Born in Reading, Pa., Mr. Hess graduated from Princeton University in 1939 and received a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1948. Shortly after graduating from Princeton, he took his first government job as a field representative for the Social Security Administration.

Mr. Hess became director of the Division of Disability Operations in 1954. In 1965, he was named director of the Bureau of Health Insurance, placing him at the head of Medicare. At the time, the program provided health insurance to 19 million Americans.

Called "Mr. Medicare," he was praised for bringing together private insurers, hospitals and government agencies to make the program successful, according to news reports at the time. In 1967, he was promoted to the position of deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration and served as acting commissioner for several months in 1973.

He retired in 1974.

In 1967, he was awarded the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, the highest award bestowed on federal career employees. Two years later, he won the Rockefeller Public Service Award from Princeton.

He was married to the former Ann Davis, who died in 1979. In 1981 he married Jane Linn Hess, who lives in Charlottesville.

"He was a great man," Mrs. Hess said. "We just had a wonderful life."

After retirement, Mr. Hess served as the director of the Commission on Public General Hospitals between 1975 and 1978. He also was a senior member and scholar in residence at the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow at First Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville.

In addition to his wife, survivors include three daughters, Jean Hess Keller of Knoxville, Tenn., Ann Hess Smith of Gaithersburg and Elizabeth Hess Smith of Hagerstown; two sisters, Elizabeth Hess Herron of Marysville, Ohio, and Martha Hess Mantis of Santa Rosa, Calif.; and seven grandchildren.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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