While scouting around for useless information in the journal of the Elevator Constructors union, we ran across this story on Governor Alfred E. Smith’s call for compulsory health insurance for workers, a call that was well ahead of its time and one based on sound reasoning that we seem to have forgotten nearly a century later.
A health insurance law to protect workers and their families against the hazards of sickness is urged as a foremost measure of reconstruction in the message of Gov. Alfred E. Smith at the opening of the 1920 legislative session in which he declares there is pressing need for “a sound program of social, industrial and governmental betterment which will remove those causes of discontent which true Americanism requires should be eradicated.”
Gov. Smith points out that two-thirds of the causes of poverty depend directly or indirectly on sickness and that illness falls with crushing weight on those least able to bear the burden.
“Health insurance,” he says, “assures some measure of that peace of mind which comes from the certainty of proper medical care, the absence of which in cases of illness is always the dread of the worker. It is clearly indicated by recent experience that health protection is essential if we are to have sound able citizens.
“If the individual is to have adequate protection, he must be prepared at all times to defray the expenses of a maximum period of illness. This maximum provision by each individual is financially impossible.
“I reiterate my belief in the principle that health insurance for industrial workers should be compulsory,” Gov. Smith continues. “Expenditures for voluntary health protection is apt to be considered a non-essential and often would prove too heavy a burden on the budgets of the workers. It does not mean that a worker will not be free under health insurance to select a physician of his own choice. It does mean that the worker is assured of the means to provide for proper medical care.”
At the last session of the New York legislature a compulsory health insurance bill passed the Republican senate with the aid of Democratic votes reinforced by Gov. Smith’s strong endorsement, but in the assembly the Speaker’s antagonism prevented it from even coming to a vote. The measure will be introduced again at the present session with the active support of the State Federation of Labor, the combined women’s organizations of the state, prominent civic and social service bodies, progressive employers and physicians, and the great metropolitan press. It is also endorsed by the Reconstruction Commission of the State of New York, a large and representative body including prominent employers, labor officials and physicians, after full investigation and public hearings.
It is reported that the first employer-sponsored hospitalization plan was created by teachers in Dallas, Texas, in 1929, nine years after Smith was speaking. The Roosevelt administration considered a national health insurance program, but it (and all insurance) was opposed by the American Medical Assocation. Employer-sponsored health plans wouldn’t rise until World War II.