It's time to give thanks for healthcare

December 11, 2012

Jeff Nedelman

President Barack Obama's reelection finally sealed a 158-year-old deal to provide universal healthcare to all Americans, an idea supported by Republican and Democratic presidents alike.

Voters are historically illiterate about the origins of most major laws, so here is a short history of the idea of universal healthcare:

In 1854, Congress passed (but President Franklin Pierce vetoed) the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent and Insane, which would have established asylums for the indigent insane, as well as the blind, deaf, and dumb, via federal land grants to the states. Pierce argued that the federal government should not commit itself to social welfare, which he believed was properly the responsibility of the states.

After the Civil War, the federal government established the first system of national medical care in the South. Known as the Freedmen's Bureau, the government constructed 40 hospitals, employed more than 120 physicians, and treated well over one million sick and dying former slaves. The hospitals were short lived, lasting only five years from 1865 to 1870.

Jump forward to 1935, when FDR sought to include publicly funded healthcare programs in the Social Security legislation. After a two-year nasty, public fight with the American Medical Association, FDR ended up removing the healthcare provisions from the bill.

Fear of organized medicine's opposition to universal healthcare became standard for decades. In 1949, President Harry Truman called for universal healthcare as a part of his Fair Deal, but strong opposition stopped that part of the Fair Deal. By 1965, fears of "socialized medicine" had abated and the stage was set for the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. In 1968, a National Opinion Research Center poll reported that 87 percent of Americans believed that healthcare was a right of all American citizens.

In his 1974 State of the Union address, President Richard M. Nixon called for comprehensive health insurance. On February 6, 1974, he introduced the Comprehensive Health Insurance Act. Nixon's plan would have mandated employers to purchase health insurance for their employees and provided a federal health plan, similar to Medicaid, that any American could join by paying on a sliding scale based on income. President Clinton tried for two years to pass his version of healthcare, but impeachment got in the way.

Now, the positions taken by Denny's and Papa John's "“ that pre-existing conditions should not be automatically covered, that an insurance company should be able to decide when to terminate service of a critically ill family member, and that young adults ought not to be able to be carried on their parents' plan for a few more years "“ are pre-historic.

We should pause and give thanks to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama for their leadership. It only took 158 years, but we did it.

Jeff Nedelman has more than 30 years of experience in various industries, including a stint as a Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and chief lobbyist for the nation's largest food trade association. In all those years, Jeff has learned that the shortest distance between two political points is not a straight line.

Originally published Dec 11, 2012 10:00:57 AM.