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A Brief History of Medicare for All

The idea of Medicare for All has been around for nearly 100 years under several different names. Here’s a brief history of the way the legislation for a single-payer healthcare system has evolved over the past century.

The beginning

1912: When Teddy Roosevelt ran for a third term as president, a national healthcare system was a part of his platform. However, the idea was extinguished when he lost the race to William Howard Taft.

1935: Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the Social Security Act of 1935 and briefly considered including healthcare in the bill, but elected not to because he deemed it too controversial and feared it would tank the bill.

1945: Harry S. Truman proposed universal healthcare in 1945 and again in 1949, but the American Medical Association (AMA) lobbied hard against the movement, deeming universal healthcare “socialized medicine” that would remove the entrepreneurial spirit from American healthcare. They also feared universal healthcare would sever the intimate relationship between patient and doctor, and put the government squarely in the middle of medicine.

1965: When Medicare was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson in the Social Security Amendments Act of 1965, the idea was to eventually expand the program to cover every American. However, the AMA’s campaign against Medicare had been so successful in the previous decades that the lawmakers who created Medicare did not voice this intention out of fear of Cold War-era communist sentiments getting attached to the bill.

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The middle

1970: The first person to use the term Medicare for All was Republican Senator Jacob Javits who wanted to expand Medicare coverage to the country’s entire population.

1972: The first major Medicare change came when Richard Nixon expanded coverage to include some individuals younger than 65 with disabilities and people with end-stage renal disease.

1981: Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, ushering in a new age of Conservatism. Congress slowly moved away from healthcare reform efforts during this time. Groups like the Physicians for a National Health Program were formed to bring doctors together to advocate for national health programs. Around this time, the nomenclature shifted from “national health insurance program” to “single-payer.”

1991: Democrats were eager to once again push for healthcare reform when Bill Clinton took office, but the administration distanced itself from a single-payer system and instead sought to expand coverage to everyone while still preserving the private and employer-sponsored insurance plans. However, this plan eventually fell apart.

The future

2003: Representative John Conyers introduced the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, a bill that would create a single-payer healthcare system. The bill was mostly ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike, but Conyers reintroduced the bill to Congress every single session until he retired in December 2017.

2009: When Barack Obama took office, he had intentions of passing a public option, which would allow people to buy into Medicare or a Medicare-type system. However, he could not get enough Democrats and Republicans on board, and compromised with the Affordable Care Act.

2013: Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a Medicare for All bill and received zero co-sponsors.

2016: Sanders made Medicare for All a major part of his platform in the 2016 presidential race, shining a national spotlight on the single-payer system for the first time.

2017: Sanders introduced another Medicare for All bill and received 14 co-sponsors.

2019: In April, House Democrats released their official Medicare for All bill, which had over 100 co-sponsors before it was officially presented on the House floor. At the time of the 2016 presidential race, Sanders was the only candidate whose platform included Medicare for All. Now, just three years later, roughly half of all the candidates running for the Democratic nomination support the single-payer system.

Although Democrats are increasingly embracing Medicare for All, a single-payer healthcare system will not pass if Republicans strike it down in the Senate and White House.

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