The three days of arguments beginning before the Supreme Court on Monday may mark a turning point in a century of debate over what role the government should play in helping all Americans afford medical care. A look at the issue through the years:
Former President Theodore Roosevelt champions national health insurance as he tries to ride his progressive Bull Moose Party back to the White House. It’s an idea ahead of its time; health insurance is a rarity and medical fees are relatively low because doctors cannot do much for most patients. But medical breakthroughs are beginning to revolutionize hospitals and drive up costs. Roosevelt loses the race.
Baylor Hospital in Texas originates group health insurance. Dallas teachers pay 50 cents a month to cover up to 21 days of hospital care per year. The plan grows into Blue Cross.
After five years of work, doctors, economists and hospital administrators on the independent Committee on the Costs of Medical Care publish their report about the increasing costs of health care and the number of people going untreated. They say health care should be available to all.
Americans struggle to pay for medical care amid the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt favors creating national health insurance, but decides to push for Social Security first. He never gets the health program passed.
Roosevelt establishes wage and price controls as part of the nation’s emergency response to World War II. Businesses can’t attract workers with higher pay so instead they compete through added benefits, including health insurance, which unexpectedly grows into a workplace perk. Workplace plans get a boost the following year when the government says it won’t tax employers’ contributions to employee health insurance.
Saying medical care is a right of all Americans, President Harry Truman calls on Congress to create a national insurance program for those who pay voluntary fees. The American Medical Association denounces the idea as “socialized medicine.” Truman tries for years but can’t get it passed.
John F. Kennedy makes health care a major campaign issue, but as president can’t get a plan for the elderly through Congress.
Medicare for people age 65 and older and Medicaid for the poor signed into law. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s legendary arm-twisting and a Congress dominated by his fellow Democrats succeeded in creating the kind of landmark health care programs that eluded his predecessors.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., offers his proposal for a government-run plan to be financed through payroll taxes.