Americaâ€™s Rejection of Compulsory Government Health Insurance in the Progressive Era and its Legacy for National Insurance Today
Between 1915 and 1920, 18 U.S. states considered the introduction of compulsory health insurance. Given the alleged deficiencies of voluntary arrangements for insuring sickness, reformers expected social insurance to be welfare enhancing for American wage-workers since it would result in lower cost insurance and an extension of coverage to more of the population. Scholars commonly ascribe the inability of states to introduce government health insurance to American ideology and institutions that prevented the political mobilization of wage-workers. They view the lack of government insurance as a policy failure and significant for explaining why the U.S. does not have national health insurance today. The evidence presented in this paper casts doubt on this interpretation. Compulsory insurance would not have provided gains for wage-workers, and this explains the absence of broad political support for health insurance legislation in this early period.
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