The AMA`s Defeat of President Truman`s Health Care Proposal in 1948

The AMA’s defeat of President
Truman’s health care proposal
in 1948
Morlie L. Wang, MD MPH
John H. Stroger Jr Hospital, Chicago
What did Truman want to do with health
What did Truman want?
• National health insurance plan run by the federal
• Single Universal Health Plan 3
• Protect against “economic fears” of sickness1
• Citizens would pay a mandated monthly fee in to plan2
• Public agencies would pay the insurance premiums of those
too poor to pay for themselves2
• People would continue to get medical and hospital services as
they currently do1
• Doctors should expect higher earnings1
W-M-D Bill2
• Social Security expansion bill (WMD bill) first
officially introduced principals of Truman’s eventual
health proposal in 1943
– Senators Robert Wagner (D-NY), James Murray (D-MT),
Representative John Dingell (D-MI)
• 3 months after the end of WWII, in November 1945,
Truman officially called upon Congress to pass a
national program to assure the right to adequate
medical care and protection from the “economic
fears” of sickness
Reaction to Truman plan
• Physicians: No
– National Physicians committee
– AMA House of delegates
• Public: Initially Yes
– 58 % approval in national polls1
Truman’s plan associated with
• Senator Murray, Chairman of the Committee on Labor and
Public Welfare, asked that the health bill not be described as
socialistic or communistic during initial Congressional
• Senator Taft (senior Republican) said “I consider it socialism.
It is to my mind the most socialistic measure this Congress has
ever had before it”1
• Taft suggested that compulsory health insurance came right
out of the Soviet constitution1
Republicans in Congress call National
health insurance a socialist scheme
• Republicans boycotted the Congressional hearings
• Eventually, the Republicans took control of Congress in 1946
and Senator Murray was replaced by Senator Taft
• A House subcommittee investigating government propaganda
for health insurance concluded, “Known Communists and
fellow travelers with Federal agencies are at work diligently
with Federal funds in furtherance of the Moscow party line”1
• As anti-communist sentiment rose in the late forties, national
health insurance became vanishingly improbable1
AMA Fights
• Despite the setbacks suffered in 1946, Truman
promised national health insurance during the
1948 election campaign
– Following his unlikely victory in 1948, physicians were very
concerned that national health insurance could come to
AMA Fights
• In response, the AMA charged $25 per member to mount a
• Whitaker and Baxter (public relations firm), funded by the
AMA, mounted a nationwide public relations campaign
against Truman’s plan
• Pamphlets, the Press, public speakers, private contacts
• Volunteerism
• “Would socialized medicine lead to socialization of other
phases of American life?”1
– The AMA’s campaign answered: “Lenin thought so” he declared ”Socialized
medicine is the keystone to the arch of the Socialist State”. The Library of
Congress could never locate this quotation in Lenin’s writings.1
AMA Fights
• The AMA’s campaign, headed by Whitaker and
Baxter, cost $1.5 million in 1949
– At the time, it was the most expensive lobbying effort in
American history
• They were so successful in linking Truman’s
health care plan with socialism, that even
supporters of the plan referred to it at
“socialized medicine”
Truman vs. AMA
• AMA wins
– By 1949, public opinion polls showed only 36% of
Americans favored health care reform (down from
58% in 1945)
• Truman’s health care bill did not pass
1. Social Transformation of Medicine by Paul Starr 1984

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