American Medical Association Supported Free Universal Healthcare at the Beginning of the Healthcare Debate

The American Association for Labor Legislation – a group of economists whose officers included such luminaries as Louis Brandeis, Jane Addams and Woodrow Wilson – in 1912 created the Committee on Social Insurance.  The committee was the pet project of Isaac M. Rubinow, a Russian-born physician and policy specialist who wrote the landmark study “Social Insurance”.  Rubinow wanted to enact “sickness insurance” as a way to fight poverty.  In 1915, Rubinow’s committee wrote a bill to provide universal healthcare coverage.  According to JAMA, which supported the legislation, “No other social movement in modern economic development is so pregnant with benefit to the public.”  Congress even started debating the bill, noting that Germany had adopted universal healthcare in 1883.The AMA supported free universal healthcare in 1916.

Nearly a century ago in 1916, even the American Medical Association supported free universal healthcare. The organization had changed sides by the time President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed legislation as part of the New Deal in 1934.  Accusing the government of meddling with medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) described universal healthcare as “Americanism versus sovietism”.

Also in 1916, Yale University economist Irving Fisher noted that “At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without compulsory health insurance.”  What’s more, Fisher — the first celebrity economist — believed that universal healthcare coverage was something that was certain to be adopted at that time.  “Within another six months, it will be a burning question.”

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