From Socialized Medicine To National Healthcare: Over A Century Of Fruitless Debate

To read today’s headlines, one might believe the national healthcare debate was something new. It isn’t. In fact, we’ve been having this conversation in the United States and across other western nations since the 19th century.

It may be the longest held multigenerational argument on record, second only to whether or not Rome should be a Republic.

Over the course of the debate, we’ve watched other civilized nations develop competent programs while our own came close, but more often failed to launch.

Despite the Affordable Care Act, some would argue we’re still sitting on the launchpad.

American Association of Labor Legislation Bill – 1915

New hospital University of California 1915 | history.library.ucsf.edu

A group, known as AALL, formed in 1906 with a goal tie create a social welfare program. By 1914, they organized a bill which initially had the backing of the American Medical Association (AMA).

But then the issue of how exactly doctors would get paid came up.

By 1917 the AMA had disavowed all knowledge of ever supporting the AALL Bill. They’d have no part of a program that didn’t protect the incomes of their members.

The teens would witness a rise in private insurance and anti-German sentiment, especially by the end of World War I.

Socialized Medicine – 1920s

European countries started with compulsory sickness programs before the turn of the century. Even at home, Teddy Roosevelt ran for president on a platform that promised health care reform in 1912, but he did not win.

Germany had broken the seal in 1883 with a system to cover workers. Other countries followed Austria, Hungary, Norway, Britain, Russia, and the Netherlands.

This trend should have forged a path for America, but only served as a breeding ground for the red scare.

The term socialized medicine, gifted to America by the AMA, colored any idea of national health care the AMA didn’t like as socialist. As time moved forward, this expression would take on a life of its own, an anti-commie war cry against any logic.

The irony was that countries like the U.K. and Germany introduced national care to devalue the arguments made socialist parties and labor groups.

FDR’s New Deal – 1933

For a minute, it looked like turmoil might turn into triumph after the Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched the New Deal, which included the Social Security Bill.

His Committee on Economic Security (CES) believed including the health insurance aspect of his New Deal plan would spoil it. Under the advice of the CES, Roosevelt dropped it.

He would try again in 1939 with the National Health Care Act, but with the New Deal plan winding down as World War II ramped up, the bill didn’t stand a chance.

Truman’s Fair Deal – 1949

By the time President Truman took his seat in the Oval Office, the red scare was running full tilt. We had one big toe in the Cold War, so the phrase socialized medicine was an easy kill shot for any talk about universal healthcare.

Truman worked to separate his Fair Deal plan from that term, arguing that his plan was for all classes of citizens, but congress was divided. Senior Republican Senator Taft declared, “I consider it socialism.”

The AMA did not back the plan, nor did many influential groups, the American Hospital Association, and the American Bar Association. The AMA felt so threatened, they spent $1.5-million lobbying against Truman’s plan.

By the 1950s, national healthcare was a dead deal.

Medicare and Medicaid – 1965

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law in 1965, giving us our first version of socialized health care. We were just catching up to where Europe started fifty years prior.

Medicare, however, didn’t provide for all Americans, not until they were retired or too sick to work.

The program came under scrutiny in ’65, and still suffers debate, but remains a cornerstone of America’s health care plan.

Universal National Health Insurance – 1970

The Kennedy-Griffiths Bill was the brainchild of Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Martha Griffiths. It was the amalgamated efforts of two previous proposals, joined in solidarity. The Kennedy-Griffiths was promising, but it too failed to pass muster.

In the wake of that proposal, Kennedy would spend the rest of the 1970s and his life trying to make national health care a reality.

The decade of the ’70s was littered with promises and plans of reform, but by the ’80s the conversation went almost silent.

After eight decades we still had no national healthcare.

Clinton Health Care Plan – 1993

In 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House. One of his campaign promises was that he would create a national healthcare plan that would make sense financially.

The plan, the ’93 Clinton Healthcare Plan, proposed to save money by reducing the paperwork involved with medical care.

Clinton told the New York Times in ’93, “We have more than 1,500 insurers with hundreds and hundreds of different forms,” he said. Those forms, he continued, are “exasperating for anyone who’s ever tried to sit down around a table and wade through them and figure them out,” and because of it, “the medical care industry is drowning in paperwork.”

Those savings would fund his program, but the bill detractors rebranded as Hillarycare, never passed. Even within the Democratic party opinions divided, alternative plans emerged.

By September 26, 1994, Senate Majority Leader, George J. Mitchell declared the bill dead.

The rest you know, the Affordable Care Act and the recent attempt by the Republican party to dismantle and reform that act. Needless to say, we’ve not heard the last of this conversation.

Sources: kmuw.org, pnhp.org