Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2017

Abstract

In January 1937, Thomas Thacher, a former solicitor general of the United States under President Hoover, gave a talk at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Medicine. He attacked socialized medicine as a “fallacy” that would “blanket the country without regard to local conditions and individuals.” He also expressed doubts about the constitutionality of socialized medicine under the proposed system of compulsory health insurance, adding that states had no power to enforce funding for it. (Funding for such insurance would entail a sliding scale of costs between those in the upper and middle-income brackets, or to take money from the rich and give it to the poor.) Speaking directly to the physicians present, he said, “Generosity in relieving distress is characteristic of our people, and particularly of your profession. But we prefer to do our own giving.” Speeches of this sort were not rare in the 1930s or in the following years. The key players in the debate surrounding national health insurance all make an appearance – physicians and government officials discussed the implication of what a compulsory system would mean in America. Physicians were of the opinion that charity should not be linked to a compulsory infrastructure – but they found their strongest allies in those who made constitutional arguments against the idea. Thus the narrative of socialized medicine as distinctly un-American came to dominate the national conversation.

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