WIUM Tristates Public Radio

A Brief History of the Health Care Debate

Macomb, IL – The great debate is on about health care reform in America. But this is not the first time the nation has grappled with the issue.

Keith Boeckelman, Western Illinois University professor of political science, says some members of Congress pushed for a national health program as long ago as the late 1800s. They wanted to emulate the European social welfare system.

Boeckelman says that initial attempt was unsuccessful, as have been subsequent attempts.

"Back in the 1930s, when (President) Franklin Roosevelt passed his Social Security Act, there were some in Congress who wanted to include a national health care system as part of that. But Roosevelt opposed that because he felt it would bring the whole bill down," says Boeckelman.

He says there were also attempts in the 1940s and 50s to pass a national health care bill, which was supported by President Harry Truman.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson was successful in passing Medicaid and Medicare. "That covered a lot of older people and the poor who had not been covered up to that time or who received less coverage," says Boeckelman.

In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton tried to pass a universal health care program.

That brings us to today. Boeckelman says President Obama initially linked health care reform to the economy and the high cost to business. But the president has not focused on it as much lately, which could jeopardize his ability to win support for his plan.

Boeckelman says doctor's groups opposed reform in past years. Now the main opposition comes from the insurance lobby. "The private insurance companies are afraid they will be put out of business by it," says Boeckelman.

Boeckelman believes a bill will either be passed or will fail sometime this fall - he does not think the debate will drag into 2010. He says if it fails, a more incremental effort might be taken to reform some insurance company practices. He says an incremental approach was taken after the Clinton plan failed in the 1990s.

"You had the s-chip program (in the 90s) which covers children, so there were some incremental efforts to expand coverage in various ways," says Boeckelman.