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America’s Rejection of Compulsory Government Health Insurance in the Progressive Era and its Legacy for National Insurance Today

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  • J.C. Herbert Emery

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • J.C. Herbert Emery, "undated". "America’s Rejection of Compulsory Government Health Insurance in the Progressive Era and its Legacy for National Insurance Today," Working Papers 2008-23, Department of Economics, University of Calgary, revised 01 Apr 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:clg:wpaper:2008-23
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Moehling, Carolyn M., 2005. ": Youth Employment and Household Decision Making in the Early Twentieth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(02), pages 414-438, June.
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    4. Davis, Karen, 1989. "National Health Insurance: A Proposal," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 349-352, May.
    5. Weaver, Carolyn L., 1983. "On the lack of a political market for compulsory old-age insurance prior to the great depression: Insights from economic theories of government," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 294-328, July.
    6. Thomasson, Melissa A., 2002. "From Sickness to Health: The Twentieth-Century Development of U.S. Health Insurance," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 233-253, July.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Health Insurance; Savings; Progressive Era;

    JEL classification:

    • H51 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Health
    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs
    • I11 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Analysis of Health Care Markets
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation

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