!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Follow Us!

We are planning some big changes! Please follow us to stay updated and be part of our community.

Twitter Facebook

US Health Care System

Historical Background: US Health Care System

Project: US Health Care System
Open-Content project managed by kuhan, mtuck

add event | references

American Medical Association logo.American Medical Association logo. [Source: American Medical Association]The American Medical Association (AMA), in conjunction with many Congressional Republicans and some Democrats, attempts to beat back attempts to create a new government-run program to provide medical care for the elderly, to be called “Medicare.” The AMA and its political allies have fought the idea of a government-provided health care program for senior citizens since 1945, when then-President Harry Truman first suggested universal health care for all Americans.
Minimal 'Eldercare' Considered Too Much - Currently, a modest health care program for senior citizens, called “Eldercare,” is the only government coverage American seniors have. It is based on a compromise proposal written by conservative Democratic Senator Robert Kerr (D-OK) and Representative Wilbur Mills (D-AR) and signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower. Eldercare provides government benefits only for senior citizens who can demonstrate economic need, and states that choose not to participate in the program can opt out entirely. However, the AMA considers even this truncated program far too invasive, and fiercely opposes the more sweeping “Medicare” proposal, called King-Anderson after its main authors, Senator Clinton Anderson (D-NM) and Representative Cecil King (D-CA). The legislation is mired in Congressional committees. [Time, 2/19/1965; Larry DeWitt, 9/2004]
WHAM - The opposition to King-Anderson is led by the Women’s Auxilary of the AMA, which is given the task of coordinating the WHAM program—Women Help American Medicine. WHAM is directly dedicated to defeating the King-Anderson bill in Congress, “a bill which would provide a system of socialized medicine for our senior citizens and seriously curtail the quality of medical care in the United States.” The public campaign consists of the usual rallies and advertisements, most funded by corporate lobbyists working for the AMA and other health care firms. WHAM accuses King-Anderson proponents of being “socialists” and warns of federal bureaucrats violently invading “the privacy of the examination room.” WHAM coordinates an extensive grassroots effort under the rubric of “Operation Hometown,” enlisting local medical societies to speak out against King-Anderson, and providing pamphlets, reprints of press releases and articles, and talking points to local physicians.
Operation Coffeecup - Operation Coffeecup is a less visible, but just as important, element of the WHAM campaign. It centers around a series of “coffee klatches,” or “impromptu” get-togethers in kitchens and living rooms across America, hosted by WHAM members. WHAM members are told to downplay the significance of the events. One instruction tells them to portray the events as nothing more than “spontaneous” neighborhood get-togethers: “Drop a note—just say ‘Come for coffee at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. I want to play the Ronald Reagan record for you.’” The attendees are shown how to write equally “spontaneous” letters to members of Congress opposing the King-Anderson bill. The letters are carefully constructed to give the appearance of real, unsolicited missives written by concerned Americans, not the product of an orchestrated lobbying effort. Each WHAM member uses a 10-point checklist to ensure that the letters cover the points needed to make the argument against King-Anderson, and are not full of boilerplate, obviously copied-over material. The program is deliberately kept quiet, for fear that the media will portray it as an attempt to manipulate public opinion.
Reagan on Vinyl - The centerpiece of the Operation Coffeecup material is a vinyl LP entitled Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine (see 1962). The album is a 19-minute recording featuring an 11-minute address by Reagan, followed by an eight-minute follow-up by an announcer. WHAM members are assured that Reagan’s work for the organization is unpaid and voluntary, though they are not told that his father is a top AMA executive. Instead, they are told Reagan is motivated entirely by his sincere political convictions. The hope is that Reagan’s message will inspire legions of housewives to write letters demanding that King-Anderson be defeated. The AMA claims that Operation Coffeecup prompts a “legion” of responses. [Larry DeWitt, 9/2004]
Exposed - In June 1962, investigative reporter Drew Pearson exposes Operation Coffeecup in his newspaper column. Pearson writes: “Ronald Reagan of Hollywood has pitted his mellifluous voice against President Kennedy in the battle for medical aid for the elderly. As a result it looks as if the old folks would lose out. He has caused such a deluge of mail to swamp Congress that congressmen want to postpone action on the medical bill until 1962. What they don’t know, of course, is that Ron Reagan is behind the mail; also that the American Medical Association is paying for it.… Reagan is the handsome TV star for General Electric.… Just how this background qualifies him as an expert on medical care for the elderly remains a mystery. Nevertheless, thanks to a deal with the AMA, and the acquiescence of General Electric, Ronald may be able to outinfluence the president of the United States with Congress.” [Larry DeWitt, 9/2004; TPMDC, 8/25/2009]

Entity Tags: American Medical Association, Cecil King, Clinton Anderson, Operation Coffeecup, Drew Pearson, Women’s Auxilary of the AMA, Operation Hometown, Ronald Reagan, Women Help American Medicine, Medicare

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: History of US Health Care System, US Health Care Costs, US Health Care Polls, Medicare

The cover to the AMA album featuring Ronald Reagan.The cover to the AMA album featuring Ronald Reagan. [Source: Larry DeWitt]The American Medical Association (AMA) releases an 11-minute spoken-word album (LP) featuring actor and promising conservative politician Ronald Reagan. Reagan speaks against what he and the AMA call the “socialized medicine” of Medicare, currently being considered in Congress as part of legislation proposed by Democrats Cecil King and Clinton Anderson; many refer to the legislation as the King-Anderson bill. The AMA, along with most Congressional Republicans and a good number of Democrats, has been fighting the idea of government-provided health care since 1945 (see 1962).
Socialism Advancing under Cover of Liberal Policies - Reagan begins by warning that as far back as 1927, American socialists determined to advance their cause “under the name of liberalism.” King-Anderson is a major component of the secret socialist agenda, Reagan says. “One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine,” he says. “It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project.” No real American wants socialized medicine, Reagan says, but Congress is attempting to fool the nation into adopting just such a program. It has already succeeded in imposing a socialist program on the country by creating and implementing Social Security, which was originally envisioned to bring “all people of Social Security age… under a program of compulsory health insurance.” Reagan, following the AMA’s position, says that the current “Eldercare” program, often called “Kerr-Mills” for its Congressional sponsors, is more than enough to cover elderly Americans’ medical needs. (Author Larry DeWitt notes that in 1965, Kerr-Mills will be superseded by Medicaid, the medical program for the poor. He will write, “So Reagan—on behalf of the AMA—was suggesting that the nation should be content with welfare benefits under a Medicaid-type program as the only form of government-provided health care coverage.”) King-Anderson is nothing more than “simply an excuse to bring about what [Democrats and liberals] wanted all the time: socialized medicine,” Reagan says. And once the Medicare proposal of King-Anderson is in place, he argues, the government will begin constructing an entire raft of socialist programs, and that, he says, will lead to the destruction of American democracy. “The doctor begins to lose freedom,” he warns. “First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren’t equally divided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can’t live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it’s only a short step to dictating where he will go.… All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won’t decide, when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.” DeWitt will note that this is far more extravagant than any of the Medicare proposals ever advanced by any lawmaker: “It was this more apocalyptic version of Medicare’s potential effects on the practice of medicine that Reagan used to scare his listeners.”
Advocating Letter-Writing Campaign - Reagan tells his listeners that they can head off the incipient socialization of America by engaging in a nationwide letter-writing campaign to flood Congress with their letters opposing King-Anderson. “You and I can do this,” he says. “The only way we can do it is by writing to our congressman even if we believe he’s on our side to begin with. Write to strengthen his hand. Give him the ability to stand before his colleagues in Congress and say, ‘I heard from my constituents and this is what they want.’”
Apocalypse - If the effort fails, if Medicare passes into law, the consequences will be dire beyond imagining, Reagan tells his audience: “And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Reagan is followed up by an unidentified male announcer who reiterates Reagan’s points and gives “a little background on the subject of socialized medicine… that now threatens the free practice of medicine.” Reagan then makes a brief closing statement, promising that if his listeners do not write those letters, “this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day… we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this, and if I don’t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” [Larry DeWitt, 9/2004; TPMDC, 8/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Cecil King, Ronald Reagan, American Medical Association, Larry DeWitt, Clinton Anderson, Medicare

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: History of US Health Care System, US Health Care Polls, Medicare, Medicaid

President Carter and Ronald Reagan shake hands during the 1980 presidential debate.President Carter and Ronald Reagan shake hands during the 1980 presidential debate. [Source: PBS]During a campaign debate between President Jimmy Carter (D-GA) and his Republican challenger, Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), Carter lambasts Reagan for his decades-long opposition to Medicare (see 1962). “Governor Reagan, as a matter of fact, began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare,” Carter says. Reagan counters with what author Larry DeWitt calls “a deft quip and a blatant denial.” He says, “There you go again.” When the laughter subsides, Reagan continues: “When I opposed Medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the Congress. I happened to favor the other piece of legislation and thought it would be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed. I was not opposing the principle of providing care for them. I was opposing one piece of legislation versus another.” Reagan is referring to a Republican alternative called “Bettercare” that was little more than a voluntary insurance program funded by Social Security. Carter also states that Reagan had, in his career, advocated making Social Security a voluntary program, which as Carter notes, “would, in effect, very quickly bankrupt it.” Reagan had frequently advocated such a position while supporting Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, and as recently as 1975 during his unsuccessful primary campaign for the presidency, but Reagan now denies taking such a stance: “Now, again this statement that somehow I wanted to destroy it, and I just changed my tune, that I am for voluntary social security, which would mean the ruin of it, Mr. President, the voluntary thing that I suggested many years ago was that a young man, orphaned and raised by an aunt who died, his aunt was ineligible for Social Security insurance, because she was not his mother. And I suggested that if this was an insurance program, certainly the person who’s paying in should be able to name his own beneficiaries. And that’s the closest I’ve ever come to anything voluntary with Social Security.” Though Reagan’s claims are at odds with his previous positions, his denials go virtually unchallenged in the media. [Blevin, 2001; Larry DeWitt, 9/2004; American Presidency Project, 2009]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Larry DeWitt, Medicare

Category Tags: History of US Health Care System, Medicare

Wendell Potter, a senior health care executive with the insurance giant Cigna, visits a “health care exposition” in Wise, Virginia, not far from his home town. Potter is shocked at what he sees at the Wise County Fairgrounds. As he will later recall (see July 10, 2009), he assumed he would see booths set up for people to get their blood pressure checked and so forth. What he actually sees is doctors providing a range of care in livestock stalls and tents. Some patients are treated while lying on gurneys, under a rainy sky. “And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care,” he will later say. “People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee—all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth. There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. They could have been people who grew up at the house down the road, in the house down the road from me. And that made it real to me.… It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost—what country am I in? I just—it just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me.” Potter will describe himself as “insulated” from the harsh reality of American health care before visiting the expo. “I had a great job. And I had a terrific office in a high-rise building in Philadelphia. I was insulated. I didn’t really see what was going on. I saw the data. I knew that 47 million people were uninsured, but I didn’t put faces with that number.… [W]hen you’re in the executive offices, when you’re getting prepared for a call with an analyst, in the financial medium, what you think about are the numbers. You don’t think about individual people. You think about the numbers, and whether or not you’re going to meet Wall Street’s expectations. That’s what you think about, at that level. And it helps to think that way. That’s why you—that enables you to stay there, if you don’t really think that you’re talking about and dealing with real human beings.” Potter finds it difficult to reconcile his executive lifestyle with relatives and neighbors being treated in livestock stalls. He will eventually resign his position with Cigna. [PBS, 7/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Cigna

Category Tags: US Health Insurers, History of US Health Care System, US Health Care Problems

The California Nurses Association (CNA) releases the results of a study which found “a national single-payer style health care reform system would provide a major stimulus for the US economy by creating 2.6 million new jobs, and infusing $317 billion in new business and public revenues, with another $100 billion in wages into the US economy.” The study was conducted by the Institute for Health & Socio-Economic Policy (IHSP), a “non-profit policy and research group” that is “the exclusive research arm of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.” In addition to the growth in jobs and revenues generated by covering the 47 million Americans who were uninsured as of 2006, the study also found that universal coverage “could be achieved for $63 billion beyond the current $2.1 trillion in direct health care spending,” according to the press release for the study, which also notes that this figure is “six times less than the federal bailout for CitiGroup, and less than half the federal bailout for AIG.” [CalNurses.org, 1/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Institute for Health & Socio-Economic Policy, California Nurses Association

Category Tags: Health Care Cost, Studies-Academic, History of US Health Care System, Obama Health Care Reform, Other health care systems, US Health Care Costs, US Health Care Problems

Professor Stephen Hawking.Professor Stephen Hawking. [Source: Quarkscrew (.com)]The conservative publication Investors Business Daily (IBD) writes an editorial harshly criticizing the Democrats’ health care reform package. The editorial repeats the debunked canard that the reform proposal will mandate allowing elderly, less “productive” citizens to die rather than pay to keep them alive (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 28, 2009). IBD compares the US health care system to Britain’s government-run National Health Service (NHS), claiming that in Britain health care is strictly rationed and routinely allows people to die if they don’t meet up with the criteria for paying for their care. “The British have succeeded in putting a price tag on human life, as we are about to,” the editorial claims. In the original version of the editorial, the editors write, “People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.” The IBD editors are apparently unaware that Hawking was born in Oxford, England, lives in Britain, teaches at the University of Cambridge, and has been supported by Britain’s health care system for his entire life. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes: “You could write some long response to the rest of the lies and distortions in that IBD editorial, but the more appropriate reply is to just warn people against ever reading the editorial page in Investor’s Business Daily. It’s not just that they didn’t know that Stephen Hawking was born in England. It’s that the underlying point was wrong, as you’ll note from the continued existence of Stephen Hawking. They didn’t choose an unfortunate example for an accurate point. They simply lied.” Hawking himself tells Guardian columnist Hugh Muir: “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.” After the corrections, IBD alters the editorial to omit the Hawking reference, but does not acknowledge that Hawking has remained alive due to NHS medical interventions. [Investor's Business Daily, 7/31/2009; Washington Post, 8/10/2009; Guardian, 8/11/2009; Huffington Post, 8/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Ezra Klein, Investors Business Daily, Stephen Hawking

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: History of US Health Care System

Author and historian Rick Perlstein reminds Washington Post readers that the kind of conservative-based outrage against health care reform is nothing new in American history. Asking whether the protests are orchestrated or spontaneous, Perlstein says they are both. “The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair (see August 6, 2009), the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president (see August 11, 2009)—too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters’ signs—too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don’t understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can’t understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.”
Charges of Soviet-Inspired Treason - In the 1950s, Perlstein writes, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as “20 years of treason,” and accused the two of deliberately surrendering the world to communism. Some conservatives leveled the accusation that a new Bible translation was the work of Soviet agents. Then-Vice President Richard Nixon claimed, without proof, that Republicans entering the White House at the beginning of the Eisenhower administration “found in the files a blueprint for socializing America.” When President Kennedy proposed using intercontinental ballistic missiles to form the basis of America’s nuclear defense instead of the traditional long-range bombers, and floated the idea of opening relations with Eastern Bloc nations such as Yugoslavia, conservatives accused him of trying to disarm the US in secret collusion with the USSR.
'National Indignation Convention' - In 1961, thousands of angry conservatives packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, where the keynote speaker shouted that he wanted to hang Chief Justice Earl Warren. A Kennedy proposal to expand mental health services included a new facility in Alaska; right-wingers claimed it was actually an internment camp for political dissidents. During the Johnson administration, conservatives claimed that the civil rights movement was conceived and orchestrated in the Soviet Union; many of them claimed that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would “enslave” white Americans.
'Uncanny' Similarities between Then and Now - Perstein notes that the similarities between the protests then and now are “uncanny,” writing: “The various elements—the liberal earnestly confused when rational dialogue won’t hold sway; the anti-liberal rage at a world self-evidently out of joint; and, most of all, their mutual incomprehension—sound as fresh as yesterday’s news. (Internment camps for conservatives? That’s the latest theory of tea party favorite Michael Savage.) The orchestration of incivility happens, too, and it is evil. Liberal power of all sorts induces an organic and crazy-making panic in a considerable number of Americans, while people with no particular susceptibility to existential terror—powerful elites—find reason to stoke and exploit that fear.”
Now, More Success at Manipulating Media, Shaping Policy - Perlstein cites examples of fake “grassroots” letters to newspaper editors written by Nixon administration aides that defended the then-president from Watergate-related charges, and how successful they were in manipulating the discussion. Now, he writes, the “Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people’s voices means they should treat Obama’s creation of ‘death panels’ as just another justiciable political claim.” In the 1960s, news anchors such as Walter Cronkite didn’t bother debunking claims about internment facilities for conservative critics, he writes. “The media didn’t adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of ‘conservative claims’ to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as ‘extremist’—out of bounds. The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America’s flora. Only now, it’s being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills—the one hysterics turned into the ‘death panel’ canard—is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of ‘complaints over the provision.’ Good thing our leaders weren’t so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill—because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.” [Washington Post, 8/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Rick Perlstein, Michael Savage

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: History of US Health Care System, Obama Health Care Reform

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike