Cover image for The wages of sickness : the politics of health insurance in progressive America
The wages of sickness : the politics of health insurance in progressive America
Hoffman, Beatrix Rebecca.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 261 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
1410 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HG9396 .H638 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The Clinton administration's failed health care reform was not the first attempt to establish government-sponsored medical coverage in the United States. From 1915 to 1920, Progressive reformers led a spirited but ultimately unsuccessful crusade for compulsory health insurance in New York State. Beatrix Hoffman argues that this first health insurance campaign was a crucial moment in the creation of the American welfare state and health care system. Its defeat, she says, gave rise to an uneven and inegalitarian system of medical coverage and helped shape the limits of American social policy for the rest of the century.

Hoffman examines each of the major combatants in the battle over compulsory health insurance. While physicians, employers, the insurance industry, and conservative politicians forged a uniquely powerful coalition in opposition to health insurance proposals, she shows, reformers' potential allies within women's organizations and the labor movement were bitterly divided. Against the backdrop of World War I and the Red Scare, opponents of reform denounced government-sponsored health insurance as "un-American" and, in the process, helped fashion a political culture that resists proposals for universal health care and a comprehensive welfare state even today.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Hoffman uses a specific piece of legislation, the narrowly defeated 1919 proposal for compulsory health insurance in New York State, as a focal point for examining the many dimensions of the Progressive Era. Using primary and secondary sources, the book weaves the interests of disparate influences such as employers, labor unions, medical doctors, women's groups, and politicians into a fascinating narrative. The author goes beyond previous studies to include influences from the time period during and after WW II, US cultural norms of private property and individualism, the growing trend toward the medicalization of women's health, and fears of eugenicists about immigrants. International comparisons are also made with the health insurance systems for workers in Britain and Germany during the same period. The volume is both extensively documented and written in lively, readable prose. It will appeal to students of a wide range of disciplines, from history to public policy. This book, in its brief epilogue, points out where one might find the causes for the failure of national health insurance proposals during the Clinton administration. One can only hope that the author will treat this later case in a future book. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above. M. A. Saint-Germain California State University, Long Beach

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1 Patchwork Protection: The Specter of Sickness and Povertyp. 6
2 Crafting a Solution to the Sickness Problem: The American Association for Labor Legislationp. 24
3 A Dose of Prussianism: European Origins and American Identitiesp. 45
4 The Worst Insult to the Greatest Profession: Medical Practitioners and Health Insurancep. 68
5 Moneyed Interests: Employers and Insurance Companies against Compulsory Health Insurancep. 92
6 The House of Labor Dividedp. 115
7 Insuring Maternity: Women's Politics and the Campaign for Health Insurancep. 137
8 The Politics of Defeatp. 163
Epiloguep. 181
Notesp. 189
Bibliographyp. 233
Indexp. 247