Most readers of Olsen’s book will be surprised to learn that Reagan embraced universal coverage. In “A Time for Choosing” — Reagan’s celebrated conservative manifesto delivered at Goldwater’s 1964 Republican National Convention — Reagan declared, “No one in this country should be denied medical care for lack of funds.” In a speech to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce — in Goldwater’s backyard — Reagan said, “Any person in the United States who requires medical attention and cannot provide for himself should have it provided for him.”Avik Roy explains:
While Reagan opposed “compulsory health insurance through a government bureau for people who don’t need it or who have . . . even a few million dollars tucked away,” he championed the Kerr-Mills Act of 1960, a law introduced by two Democrats that gave federal money to states with which to provide medical care for the elderly in need. Reagan said that he was “in favor of this bill — and if the money isn’t enough, I think we should put up more.”
In the 1960s, Reagan opposed Medicare for two principal reasons: participation was mandatory, and because Medicare spent scarce taxpayer funds to subsidize coverage for wealthy people—even millionaires—who didn’t need the help. But Reagan explicitly supported the role of government in subsidizing care for every American who could not otherwise afford it.One of the root factors in our health care drama is the requirement that hospitals treat everyone who comes in regardless of whether they can pay. Many states had these laws for decades, but the Federal requirement goes back to 1986, signed into law by Ronald Reagan.
At the time that provision was hugely popular, and it remained so until fairly recently. Within the past decade many Republicans have turned against it. That is partly due to reflexive opposition to Obamacare but also due to a growing understanding that this one law pretty much requires massive Federal intervention in health care; you can't get to a really libertarian system unless hospitals can turn people away.
Maybe with the failure of the current Republican Obamacare repeal effort we can get back to trying to make the system work better, drafting a bill that can get votes from both parties. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change?