Disparate Groups Opposed Universal Coverage Efforts
Mandatory health insurance in the U.S. seemed "inevitable" in the early 1900s, but a "mighty resistance movement of some [of] the unlikeliest political bedfellows in history" partnered to defeat the proposal, Wall Street Journal columnist Cynthia Crossen writes in an opinion piece.
According to Crossen, in his 1912 presidential campaign as a Progressive Party candidate, former President Theodore Roosevelt "endorsed compulsory health insurance as part of his platform." She adds, "That same year, an organization of progressive economists -- the American Association for Labor Legislation, or AALL -- started a crusade to make health insurance mandatory for workers who earned less than $1,200 a year (about $25,000 today)," and more than "a dozen state legislatures began considering compulsory health insurance based on a model bill drafted by the labor group."
The legislation seemed "advantageous for workers and doctors" because workers could "return to their jobs more quickly" with improved access to health care and physicians would "prosper if a growing number of patients could pay their fees," Crossen writes. However, she writes that private health insurers, fraternal organizations, pharmacists, manufacturers, labor unions, Christian Scientists, anti-Communists and physicians partnered to defeat the legislation for "wildly different motives."
Some labor unions maintained that the legislation would "lead to the determination of who was a good insurance risk," and some private health insurers criticized the legislation as "un-American," according to Crossen. In addition, many physicians maintained that the legislation "would insert the dubious judgment of the government between patient and doctor and cut their pay," Crossen writes.
She writes, "In the end, not a single state passed a health insurance law" (Crossen, Wall Street Journal, 4/30).