TIMELINE: Presidential influence on health care reform throughout 20th century

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:17 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The first federal involvement in health care was in 1798, when the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman Act was passed.

Since then, the 20th century is littered with presidential attempts to reform health care. After several failures and numerous stalls in Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives approved President Barack Obama’s plan Sunday. Obama said he intends to sign the bill Tuesday.

Here’s a look at the history of health care reform under presidents from 1912-2010. 

  • THEODORE ROOSEVELT: Roosevelt aligns with the Progressive movement in the first attempt to pass a universal health care bill in 1912. His Square Deal would have guaranteed medical coverage to all Americans. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 derailed the plan. The Red Scare of 1919 made people even more hesitant to adopt a socialized insurance system.
  • CALVIN COOLIDGE: The Committee on the Cost of Medical Care was established in 1927 to investigate America's health care system. The committee recommended that private insurance or taxes support health care. After the stock market crashed in 1929, the number of Americans who could afford health insurance plummeted, and the idea was abandoned.
  • FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: He campaigned on a health care platform that called for aggressive action and change to the system. The Social Security Act was passed in 1935, providing safety for the sick, older citizens and disabled. A national health insurance program was never seriously considered because the country was focused on economic recovery after the Great Depression.
  • HARRY S. TRUMAN: In an attempt to enact compulsory health insurance, Truman endorsed the Murray-Wagner-Dingell bill in 1945. The bill failed in Congress, but in lieu of legislation, Truman developed a plan to provide 60 days of free hospital care for Social Security recipients. This later became a central component of Medicare and Medicaid.
  • JOHN F. KENNEDY: His platform endorsed medical care benefits, but before his proposal was seriously considered by Congress, he was assassinated.
  • LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Johnson continued to push health care as a priority. In 1965, Medicare and Medicaid became law to provide coverage for the elderly, federal grants to states for medical coverage and nursing home services for the poor. Medicare and Medicaid created an alliance between medical institutions and private insurance companies.
  • RICHARD M. NIXON: He was responsible for signing the Health Maintenance Organization Act in 1973. The law allocated $375 million for grants and loans to fund and expand health organizations.
  • JIMMY CARTER: Carter’s election in 1976 reopened the issue of health care reform. The administration developed the Health Security Plan, which would have required employers to offer health insurance and expanded Medicare and Medicaid coverage. A recession during Carter’s presidency killed the plan.
  • RONALD REAGAN: He signed COBRA — the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 — into law. It mandates an insurance program giving some employees the ability to continue health insurance coverage from the workplace after leaving the job. 
  • GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides a broad range of protections for people with disabilities.
  • BILL CLINTON: During the early 1990s, thousands of middle-class Americans lost their jobs and thus insurance coverage, forcing the Clinton administration to consider health care reform. Clinton offered a plan for universal coverage with managed insurance competition, but opposition from insurance companies killed the bill.
  • BARACK OBAMA: On Sunday, Congress passed health care legislation, guaranteeing universal coverage for all participants. Estimated to cost $940 billion over 10 years, the plan would be fully implemented by 2014.

Sources:;;; The Associated Press

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