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Socialized Medicine: Polemic or Panacea?

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But is the argument fair? Or even relevant? Many Americans would be surprised to learn that socialized medicine has been around since the end of the 19th century — and it exists in certain quarters of American life in more ways than are generally acknowledged.

The current presidential campaign has certainly raised the issue beyond the expected promises for universal healthcare, an initiative supported by the majority of Americans — a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that by a two-to-one margin, Americans are in favor of a universal health insurance program on the condition that it does not limit the individual right to choose doctors or lead to waiting lists for non-emergency treatments.

The first modern program of socialized medicine was established in Germany as "compulsory national health insurance" by German Chancellor Prince Otto von Bismarck in 1884. Because the cost of mandatory healthcare exceeded what citizens were paying for private insurance, the initiative failed. England also experimented with socialized medicine in 1911, but this too was regarded as a failure. It wouldn't be until the late 20th century that socialized medicine would gain traction as a sustainable national insurance program throughout Europe.

The movement for universal coverage in the United States goes back to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, who first proposed the idea. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman also attempted to implement socialized medicine as part of their administrations' legislative accomplishments, but it was killed by a public campaign engineered by the American Medical Association which claimed, "Socialized medicine…will undermine the democratic form of government."

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