In 1945, President Harry Truman campaigned for a national health insurance plan that was attacked as “socialized medicine” by the American Medical Association (AMA). Truman’s response was true then and resonates now:
“Under the plan I suggest, our people would continue to get medical and hospital services just as they do now—on the basis of their own voluntary decisions and choices. Our doctors and hospitals would continue to deal with disease with the same professional freedom as now. There would, however, be this all-important difference: whether or not patients get the services they need would not depend on how much they can afford to pay at the time.”
The AMA capitalized on the public’s fears of communism and even accused Truman’s administration of being “followers of the Moscow party line.” Lobbying and marketing efforts by the AMA defeated Truman’s plans for universal health care.
Those tactics continued during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as the AMA opposed legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid. They paid then-actor Ronald Reagan to record a frightful message: Medicare was “socialized medicine” and would lead to communism. Despite this fear-mongering, Congress passed Medicare and Medicaid into law.
The AMA was also on the wrong side of history during the 1960s civil rights movements. Hospitals and clinics seeking funds from Medicare were required by federal law to provide medical services regardless of race. However, in March 1966, months before Medicare officially launched, many hospitals and clinics were segregated. The AMA would not accept non-white doctors.
Rather than support Medicare for All and put patients before profits, the AMA entered a new “conspiracy of inaction”: the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF).
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. confronted the AMA for contributing to a “conspiracy of inaction” toward civil rights. He said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”
Because everyday Americans protested, the AMA ended its discriminatory practices in 1968. A formal, public apology was issued in 2008.
Today, we can build Medicare for All and make health care a human right for every person in the United States. The Medicare for All Act of 2019 will deliver care and peace of mind my patients desperately need. Under Medicare for All, your health care will not depend on whether your state expanded Medicaid; whether you earned “too much” money to qualify for federal help; or whether your employer-sponsored insurance decided to arbitrarily change its network of providers.
Medicare for All is also critical for racial justice and equity. Right now, 59 percent of America’s uninsured are people of color. This injustice is unsustainable as minority communities grow and become the majority of our population.
Rather than support Medicare for All and put patients before profits, the AMA entered a new “conspiracy of inaction”: the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF). This group includes the most powerful profiteers in health care: the insurance industry, Big Pharma corporations, for-profit hospitals, and some patient advocacy groups funded by all of the above.
PAHCF follows the AMA’s longstanding traditions of using fear and misinformation to attack Medicare for All. PAHCF and the AMA say Medicare for All will create a “one size fits all” system of health care. As a physician, I assure you this is total nonsense.
Doctors are neither so stupid nor so cruel as to abandon our knowledge, skills, and ethics to reduce the complexity of medicine into a uniform rubber stamp. Under Medicare for All, patients will continue to receive personalized care—without the anxieties over cost and the ability to pay. What’s really “one size fits all” is the line of attack on Medicare for All and its predecessors. The AMA’s lobbyists and marketing have repeatedly deployed the same scare tactics about America’s descent to communism. They were wrong then and now.
Weaker expansions of health care like Medicare for America and Medicaid buy-in are also pilloried by PAHCF and the AMA. Led by Lauren Crawford Shaver, a former staffer from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, PAHCF has attacked Medicare X. That policy is sponsored by Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s former running mate.
If even the smallest tinkering with the status quo is unsatisfactory, then it becomes abundantly clear that the AMA and their corporate friends at PAHCF are determined to protect every single ill-gotten dollar of their profits, even at the expense of patients’ lives. Health justice, equity, and peace of mind for struggling families are nowhere on their agenda.
Everyday people must fight the injustices of profiteers in our health care. The AMA does not speak for me and thousands of doctors who want high-quality, equitable, and just health care for our patients through Medicare for All. We are joining millions of families to demand our members of Congress stand up to the lobbyists, call out misinformation, and reject campaign contributions from the “conspiracy of inaction” thriving off our patients’ misery.
Dr. Sanjeev Sriram
Independent Media Institute
Sanjeev K. Sriram is the host of “Dr. America,” an innovative podcast about public policy and health justice on We Act Radio. He also writes about connections between health policy, inequity, and social determinants of health. Dr. Sriram completed his medical degree and his pediatrics residency at UCLA, where he served as Chief Resident at the Department of Pediatrics. In June 2009, he earned his Master’s in Public Health after completing the Commonwealth Fund Mongan Fellowship in Minority Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health. He currently practices general pediatrics in southeast Washington, D.C.