Today’s Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act also happens to mark the anniversary of a Saturday radio address delivered exactly 21 years ago by Bill Clinton, who was trying to advance his own administration’s ill-fated attempt at health care reform. As Carl Cannon points out in his always informative “Morning Note” on Real Clear Politics, the president opened on a note of optimism, then reminded his listeners of all the previous presidents who had tried and failed to create a universal health care system for Americans — a roster of frustration that he would soon join. On this historic day, Clinton’s remarks still seem relevant:
For the first time in American history, and after 60 years of reform efforts, committees in both houses of Congress have approved bills that guarantee universal health coverage — coverage to all American families. Anyone who doubts the significance of this need only look at the last half-century. President Roosevelt first tried to reform health care but couldn’t get this far. President Truman tried several times and couldn’t do it. President Nixon proposed universal health coverage with an employer-employee joint responsibility to pay for insurance and he couldn’t do it. President Carter also tried without success…
Nothing is what we have done for years. And just this week a new report showed that the percentage of Americans without insurance has gone from 12 percent to 15 percent of our population in the last 12 years. Now, that’s over 12 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. In the last three years alone more than 3 million Americans have been added to the rolls of the uninsured. Even those with insurance today can’t count on having it tomorrow unless we fix our system and fix it now.
Actually, not all Americans face this kind of risk; members of Congress, along with the president and all federal government employees, we have a great deal right now. We work for you, the taxpayers of America. And you reward us with health coverage that can’t be taken away even if we get sick. Not only that, we have the requirement that employers contribute most of the cost of our health plan — that’s you, you’re our employers — and we contribute some.
Now I believe every working American deserves these same benefits and that same guarantee. And I think you ought to tell Congress that you believe the same thing.
In the weeks ahead special interests will again be spending millions of dollars — tens of millions — to block reform. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that the concerns of hard-working Americans don’t get drowned out. Harry Truman said it best about 50 years ago when he said, “There’s no other way to assure that the average American family has a decent chance for adequate medical care. There’s no other way to assure a strong and healthy nation.” I believe 50 years is long enough to wait to make good on that promise.
Americans had to wait another 15 years for that promise to be fulfilled, even in part, by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — and six years more for the Supreme Court majority to protect health care reform from Republicans who would still deprive millions of health coverage.