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Health Care Reform and History

President Kennedy speaks at podium, flanked by 14 seated dignitaries, as a crowd looks on.

Health Care Reform and History is an educational module divided into six one-hour classes covering a century of reform struggles, from the early 1900s to the present. The module encourages students to analyze historical events in light of current issues in American health care and health politics. Each of the classes includes a brief introduction, a list of readings, primary sources, and discussion questions. Information about the author of the module, suggested uses, and academic objectives, is also available online at About the Module.

Class 1: Sickness as a Social Problem

introduces the early history of U.S. health reform from 1900–1930, emphasizing the first movements for universal health insurance and debates over the cost of medical care.

Class 2: Health Politics in the 1920s and the Great Depression

invites students to discuss the role of the federal government in health care through an examination of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act and the health politics of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Class 3: The Battle over National Health Insurance

looks at the role of the American Medical Association in the defeat of President Harry Truman’s plan for national health insurance, and the subsequent rise of the private health insurance industry and employer health coverage.

Class 4: Civil Rights, Senior Citizens, and Medicare

highlights the role of the civil rights movement and senior citizen activism in the 1965 passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the nation’s first national health insurance programs.

Class 5: Health Care in Crisis

covers debates over the growing numbers of Americans without health insurance in the 1980s and early 1990s and how the Clinton administration’s attempt at reform met with failure.

Class 6: Health Care Reform: The Second Century

examines the factors leading to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the continuing conflicts over the law’s implementation and constitutionality.