Friday, April 9, 2010

A Short History of the Health Care Debate



Franklin Roosevelt identified health care as a right, but never pushed for it. Harry Truman campaigned for a government program, but it was under Dwight Eisenhower that employers began to offer health insurance as a tax-free benefit.


John Kennedy introduced the initial Medicare legislation, which did not pass. Notice that he compares the American health care system unfavorably to those in Europe.






Harry Truman was the first president to actively champion universal health care. Although it was a central part of his epic 1948 campaign, Truman never proposed actual legislation. Members of his administration devised the original concept of Medicare, and in 1965, Truman became the first American to enroll in the program:


Richard Nixon's health care plan, though not passed, changed the terms of the debate from government-driven universal care to general access through the private insurance system, the approach eventually adopted by President Obama. Don't miss the closing remarks in this video.


Bill Clinton, as ever conversant in policy matters, summarizes the pros and cons of different approaches to universal health care. Clinton's own attempt at health care reform collapsed under attacks from the health insurance industry and a unified Republican opposition. Ironically, one Republican alternative featured the mandates that the party later decried as socialism when proposed by Barack Obama.


March 23, 2010: Barack Obama signs health care reform into law 62 years after Harry Truman made the first serious proposal to guarantee health care to all Americans:


Mercy and old City Park oaks near Marconi and Harrison...

Whitman, as Whitman would have wanted (thanks, Editilla)...

HBD to JMG...


Turbulent April...

Harry Truman campaigning for president in 1948:

8 comments:

Roy said...

An interesting perspective on the history of the ongoing effort to get universal health care in the US. And the "industry" has apparently fought it tooth and nail right from the beginning; somehow I'm not surprised.

BTW, I found all 3 books on the Reconstruction from yesterday's post in the RI library system. The Lemann book is in the local library, but I had to put the other 2 on request.

TaraDharma said...

nice research, K! Too bad FDR died before signing national health care into law....

K. said...

Roy: The industry that fought Roosevelt and Truman was the AMA. The health insurance business did not really grow until Eisenhower formalized a wartime tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance.

Re the Reconstruction books, keep me informed. Lemann offers a good combination of scholarship and brevity -- it's a great place to start. As near as I can tell, Current is the most import of the three.

TD: Thanks! I had fun. How about Harry Truman on the stump? I wonder why Democrats no longer use the word "reactionary" when campaigning against Republicans.

sussah said...

Dear K, Thanks for writing this, and compiling the clips. This puts the current legislation in its proper perspective. I am very proud of President Obama for his patience and strength to succeed with this effort. best always, sp

K. said...

I'm reading a book called The Heart of Power, about how each administration from FDR to W took on the health care issue. The more I read, the more I'm impressed by Obama's accomplishment.

tnlib said...

That had to have taken a little time to write and to get the videos together. Good job and most ineresting. Will try to find The Heart of Power. Thank you, Mr. K.

K. said...

tnlib: Tennessee Librarian?

Thanks! Digging up those old videos is fun. The 30 seconds of Truman's campaign speech is a real treasure. And what the LBJ Library affectionately calls "the Johnson Style" is always impressive to hear in action.

The full title of the book is The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office, by David Blumenthal and James A. Morone (2009, University of California Press). Each chapter is devoted to a single administration, I've read through FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower. My take so far is that the book is essential to understanding the historical context of the debate.

Paula said...

Thanks for this, K. I know how hard it is to compile and post such clips. Nice job.
The videos and the span of time they represent make it clear that the basis for health care reform did not come from thin air, nor is it radical. Reform is a slow and painful process, however this step forward will spread benefits to more people than ever before. Either because we expected him to perform miracles, or because he simply knows how to play the political game better than most, Obama's accomplishment on this front is formidable. We'll be thanking him for many years, just as we did LBJ and Nixon.