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A history of President Truman's national healthcare plan

Nov 19, 2014

Credit Lord Mariser / Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear yet another challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

The case, King v. Burwell, argues that because of the wording in a clause of the ACA, people who get insurance through a federal exchange and not a state-run exchange should not be entitled to tax credit subsidies.

As the Obamacare battle continues, Dr. Howard Markel, physician and medical historian from the University of Michigan, thinks it might be helpful to look back -- 69 years back, to this exact day, November 19, in 1945. That’s when President Harry Truman spelled out a ground-breaking idea: a “universal” national health care program. 

Markel says seven months into his presidency, President Truman laid out a five-point plan for a national health care program. This came about from President Truman’s concern that there weren’t enough doctors in rural areas of the U.S.

Truman wanted to see every American have access to a health insurance plan, and he wanted anyone who couldn't work because of illness to receive a check to subsidize loss of income. One of the most vocal opponents of this plan was the American Medical Association.

Markel says the way Truman's plan divided the nation are eerily similar to the divides seen in the current debate over the ACA. “I think it’s time we really take a deep breath and think about how important it is for the health of the nation," Markel says. "Not just the physical health, but the economic and social health for all of us to have a good health insurance package that cares for us when we’re ill.”