WASHINGTON - Robert M. Ball, a former Social Security commissioner considered by many as its chief defender and the father of Medicare, has died at age 93.
Ball's death Tuesday was announced by the National Academy of Social Insurance, which he founded in 1986. No cause was given.
Ball first worked as a Social Security field assistant in New Jersey in 1939. Appointed commissioner of Social Security by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, he stayed on as commissioner until his retirement in 1973. The Medicare and the Social Security disability program was enacted under his watch, and he was considered one of the foremost experts in those areas.
"Bob Ball left an indelible mark on the Social Security programs and the agency in that he played a critical role in the establishment of Medicare," Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said Wednesday. "His commitment to Social Security was unequaled, and he will be remembered as a great leader."
John Rother, AARP's public policy director, called Ball a tireless defender of Social Security and Medicare. "His dedication has inspired a whole generation of younger advocates and leaders in the field, and his writings will continue to influence the debate for broader health and pension coverage for years to come," Rother said.
Ball was a member of the 1983 Greenspan Commission that was able to strike a deal to boost taxes and cut benefits to keep Social Security solvent during the Reagan administration, the last major piece of Social Security legislation passed by Congress in the 20th century.
Edward D. Berkowitz, who wrote the book "Robert Ball and the Politics of Social Security" in 2003, said Ball was part of the generation of public servants who came to Washington during the New Deal.
"He was probably the best of them," Berkowitz said. "He was one of the best bureaucrats in Washington and was by far the most important bureaucrat who ever worked in the Social Security Administration."
Ball had called for this year's presidential candidates to insist on no benefit cuts.
"The program lifts 13 million elderly beneficiaries above poverty," Ball wrote in an Oct. 29 column in The Washington Post.
"Without Social Security, 55 percent of the disabled — and a million children — would live in poverty," he wrote. "Social Security is the nation's most effective anti-poverty program. But it's much more than that. For every worker it provides a solid base on which to try to build an adequate level of retirement income. To weaken that foundation would be grossly irresponsible."
On the Net:
Robert M. Ball: http://www.robertmball.org/
Social Security Administration information on Robert M. Ball: http://www.ssa.gov/history/orals/balloralhistory.html