“Give ‘Em Hell Harry” Tried to Give Americans National Healthcare

Harry Truman had been Vice President for just 82 days when Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death catapulted him into the presidency and the spotlight.  One of his earliest initiatives was to propose a new national healthcare program in a November 19, 1945 message to Congress.

Truman argued that the federal government should be a major player in the healthcare arena.  “The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility.”  The most jb_modern_fairdeal_1_econtroversial aspect of Truman’s plan was an optional national health insurance fund, which would be run by the federal government and open to all Americans.  Participants would pay a monthly fee, which would cover all of their medical expenses.  The government would pay physicians who joined the program for services rendered, and reimburse the policy holder for lost wages due to illness or injury.

The legislation introduced into the Senate and House of Representatives ran headlong into the American Medical Association’s (AMA) strong opposition.  “The AMA characterized the bill as ‘socialized medicine’, and in a forerunner to the rhetoric of the McCarthy era, called Truman White House staffers ‘followers of the Moscow party line'”.

Once the Korean War started, Truman was forced to abandon his healthcare bill.  Despite his failure, he successfully brought the issue of healthcare in America to the forefront.  When Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law at the Harry S. Truman library, he said it “all started really with the man from Independence.”

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