Harry Truman tried to create a national health insurance system. Public opinion was initially on his side: Jill Quadagno's book "One Nation, Uninsured" tells us that in 1945, 75 percent of Americans favored national health insurance. If Truman had succeeded, universal coverage for everyone, not just the elderly, would today be an accepted part of the social contract.Read the rest here.
But Truman failed. Special interests, especially the American Medical Association and Southern politicians who feared that national insurance would lead to racially integrated hospitals, triumphed.
Sixty years later, the patchwork system that evolved in the absence of national health insurance is unraveling. The cost of health care is exploding, the number of uninsured is growing, and corporations that still provide employee coverage are groaning under the strain.
So the time will soon be ripe for another try at universal coverage. Public opinion is already favorable: a 2003 Pew poll found that 72 percent of Americans favored government-guaranteed health insurance for all.
But special interests will, once again, stand in the way. And the big debate among would-be reformers is how to deal with those interests, especially the insurance companies. These companies played a secondary role in Truman's failure but have since become a seemingly invincible lobby.
Krugman's vision of "a radically unequal society, in which all but the most affluent Americans face the constant risk of financial ruin and even premature death because they can't pay their medical bills" is already status quo for many. Every year, more Americans tumble into that category, and can't get out.