Read through the inforgraphic to learn about a few presidents who changed health care, then scroll below to learn more.
The Early Years
The first U.S. president to address health care was Franklin Pierce. In 1854, he vetoed Congress’s “Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane.” He said it wasn’t the federal government’s job to to decide on social welfare.
Almost 60 years later, Theodore Roosevelt begged to differ. Although he had already served a two-term presidency, Roosevelt called for a national healthcare system during his failed 1912 re-election campaign.
Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, was the next president to make a serious attempt at health care reform. He tried to include mandatory health insurance in the Social Security Act of 1935, but the American Medical Association opposed it. The White House feared that fighting for its inclusion would threaten passage of the entire bill, so national health insurance was quietly dropped.
Congress tried again with the Wagner National Health Act of 1939. It included a national health insurance mandate that won FDR’s qualified support. But the 1938 elections had ushered into Congress a wave of conservatives who were weary of New Deal social programs, so national health insurance was again deferred.
Out in the Cold
Harry Truman became president in 1945 when FDR died. Truman wholeheartedly supported national health insurance for all Americans, but his presidency coincided with the beginning of the Cold War, and with an anti-communist fervor in the United States. The AMA and congressional opponents of mandatory health care said it was an incursion of Soviet-style communism, effectively blocking all reform efforts under Truman.
Lyndon Johnson took office in November 1963, and eventually brought about the first measurable changes to the American health care regime. He proposed Medicare, the socialized health insurance plan for the elderly, and Medicaid, the federally-funded, state-administered health insurance program for the poor. Congress passed both programs, and Johnson signed them into law in 1965.
His successor, Richard Nixon, signed the Social Security Amendments of 1972. This extended Medicare to Americans under 65 who had been severely disabled for at least two years, or who had end-stage renal disease.
President Jimmy Carter, elected in 1976, feuded with Senator Ted Kennedy over health care. Kennedy wanted to implement government-funded universal coverage. At first, so did Carter, but he later supported a plan “built on our existing system of private insurance, provided that coverage was mandatory and universal.”
In the end, neither Carter nor Kennedy got what he wanted, but Carter did send two health care bills to Congress: the Hospital Cost Containment Act of 1977 and the Child Health Assessment Program. The former was intended to hold down growing health care costs. The latter would make health care more accessible to low-income children. Congress rejected both.
Hope and Change
When Bill Clinton moved into the White House in 1993, the cost of health care was one of the first issues he took on. He created a task force to study the problem and propose solutions. It was headed by First Lady Hillary Clinton.
The task force met in secret, angering Republicans. It eventually unveiled a plan whose central tenet was the requirement that employers provide health insurance to all employees. The plan went to Capitol Hill as the Health Security Act. Congress didn’t pass it.
In 2010, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to bring substantial system-wide change to the American health care system. He proposed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which Congress passed. Its aims are to make affordable health insurance available to all Americans, and to lower the cost of health care to individuals, businesses and the government. Time will tell if it succeeds.
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