Harry S Truman died in 1972, so he will not be there today when the President signs the landmark legislation that passed the House on Sunday, but I hope that Harry gets his props at the signing ceremony.
That is because Harry Truman was the first President to propose universal coverage for all Americans and he did so nearly 65 years ago, in November 1945, arguing in a message to Congress that the federal government had a vested interest in the health of the citizenry, especially America’s children.”The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility,” Truman said.
Truman’s plan went so far as to call for a national health insurance policy that Americans could buy into with a monthly premium and in exchange, have their care covered.
For this, Truman was pilloried and vilified. The AMA denounced his plan as “socialized medicine” and accused the President and his White House of toeing “the Moscow party line” – a highly inflammatory charge at the dawn of the cold war.
Truman’s plan put universal coverage for Americans into the Democratic platform, and it has remained ever since, yet it was so despised by the medical establishment that it would be nearly twenty years before significant healthcare legislation would be proposed and passed.
When Congress enacted the Medicare national health insurance program for the elderly two decades later, President Lyndon Johnson paid homage to Truman by signing the bill into law at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo.
“It was really Harry Truman of Missouri who planted the seeds of compassion and duty which have today flowered into care for the sick, and serenity for the fearful,” Johnson said.
“It all started really with the man from Independence. And so, as it is fitting that we should, we have come back here to his home to complete what he began.”
When Obama rolled out his proposal for health care in January 2007, he, too, invoked Truman, calling him “the first man bold enough to issue the call for universal health care” and remembering the way Johnson signed Medicare with Truman at his side.
After the House of Representatives passed the health care bill late Sunday evening, Obama celebrated with close aides on the White House’s Truman Balcony, the second floor balcony added to the South Portico by Truman.
That’s one way to tell it.
Here in Kansas City, if you get more than two Democrats who care about healthcare policy in one place, you’ll hear the real tale of LBJ coming to Independence to sign Medicare into law. LBJ said he was going to sign it in Independence and his staff went ballistic, warning him that Truman was still radioactive on the issue and it would hurt him politically. He said he didn’t care, it was the right thing to do.
He came to Independence to sign the bill, and then he turned and gave Harry the very first Medicare card, and he gave Bess the second one.
Every Jackson County Democrat knows that story.
And you can bet that this year’s Truman Days at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center will be a celebration of Harry’s dream finally starting to be realized.
History happens at 10:15 central, 11:15 eastern…