Health care reform is on everyone’s mind. It’s an idea, they say, whose time has come. The cost of health insurance is out of control. 40 plus million Americans cannot afford or cannot qualify for health insurance.
But health care reform has been here before. Actually, about every 15 years there is a push for reforming health care in America. It started way back in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party introduced a platform calling for national health insurance for industry.
In 1934 as part of the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt considered proposing universal health coverage as part of the Social Security Act. Presidents as diverse as Truman, Carter, Ford, George H.W. Bush and Clinton have all introduced various proposals for health care reform. Universal health coverage is always the stated goal. All the proposals put forth by all these administrations, dating back to the early 1900’s have only thing in common-failure.
In 1943 President Truman proposed a single insurance plan that would cover all Americans. His plan allowed for public subsidies for the poor. This universal, comprehensive plan was to be run as part of Social Security. But Truman was faced with an economy that was transitioning from a war time economy to a peace time economy. For a time Truman lost the confidence of the general public. Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in 1946 and branded Truman as a lame duck.
But Truman campaigned in 1948 on a promise to extend the New Deal and specifically targeted Congressional Republicans who has opposed national health insurance. Truman defeated these Republicans and seemed to have a mandate from the people to implement national health insurance. But despite having a Congress that had a Democratic majority, Truman could not pass his health reform plan. His plan failed because powerful Southern Democrats, all of whom held key leadership positions in Congress, feared that federal involvement in health care would lead to desegregation of hospitals that still separated patients by race.
Labor unions also played a part in the defeat of Truman’s plan. The AFL-CIO supported the plan for universal coverage as did the UAW. But then, the UAW negotiated a deal with General Motors that included payment by GM of health insurance and pensions. Unions then believed that they could negotiate better benefits for their members than they could get under a federal universal health plan and they abandoned their support of universal care.
The AMA also opposed the Truman plan but they based their opposition on the unpopular concept of socialized medicine. As anti-communist sentiment rose, the public support for universal health care declined. Most large associations including the Chamber of Commerce, the ABA and the American Hospital Association supported the concept of voluntary and private health insurance. This was also the position favored by most of the nation’s media.