When it comes to questions about the history of health care insurance, it’s always helpful to have an expert in the family. Not a doctor, nurse, or insurance agent (I know quite a few of the latter, though). No, the most helpful person is a member of the Greatest Generation – in this case, Mom. Who better to ask about how we got into this mess than someone who remembers the days before health care insurance (and whose father’s half-cousin helped institute Social Security…).
The mania for health care insurance began at the start of World War II and even before. Great Britain was asking America for help in manufacturing arms and munitions. Bullets, guns, tanks, jeeps, rifles. As American men were being prepared to ship out to war, there were fewer workers to produce the necessary armament. Churchill wondered at America’s hesitance in entering the war. From the perspective of manufacturing, had America sent soldiers sooner, she would have been sending soldiers with no guns.
As our GIs went off to battle Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, everyone else was enlisted in manufacturing. Factories were doing everything they could to attract workers. One of the carrots happened to be health care insurance. Initially, companies offered hospitalization and catastrophic illness and that was it. Well, that should have been it.
In order to entice more workers and satisfy unions, companies started piling on the benes. They started covering doctor’s office visits, prescriptions, vaccinations. Your company could be counted on the take care of you from cradle to grave.
By the Sixties, the Liberals wanted a piece of the action. If companies could attract workers with health care benefits, why couldn’t the Liberals attract voters with the same benefits. That’s when Medicaid and Medicare were born. If your company couldn’t cover the grave end of your life, the government would. Who knew then that the Liberals were planning the demise of Capitalism? Older adults from the Roosevelt Era knew, but this was the Sixties, and the motto was “Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30.”
Neither companies nor the government could underwrite everyone for everything from cradle to grave. Most companies executives are pretty short-sighted though (Liberal bureaucrats even more so) and were content to let it be the problem of some executive in the future.
Now the piper wants to be paid and there’s nothing to pay him with. Social Security is a bust. There’s nothing in the Social Security vault but IOUs. Medicaid was, mercifully, dispatched but we still have Medicare and an onerous financial burden it is, to go hand in hand with the Social Security pyramid scheme (our family ancestor knew that it was really only meant to be temporary).
We bloggers are not professional historians, it is true. We’re not considered professional writers, either (pardon me, but until the end of next month, I really am a professional writer. I get paid to write – for an insurance company, no less). But it would be nice if some professional pundit would take it upon him or herself to instruct Americans on the history of health care insurance and how we got tangled into this Gordian knot.
We would really like to know just why we can’t return to the simple, good ole days of catastrophic illness and hospitalization insurance.