Jimmy Carter on Health Care

President of the U.S., 1977-1981


1977: Incremental approach instead of universal coverage

We negotiated long and hard in 1977 to compromise on a single-payer system and agree instead to support a plan built on our existing system of private insurance provided that coverage was mandatory and universal.

In November 1977, Carter made it clear that he had no intention to hammer out a legislative proposal. The moment called for bold leadership and swift action built around a single piece of legislation. We continued to work toward that end. And Carter continued to slow down the process. By the summer of 1978, I felt that the president was squandering a real opportunity to get something done. The Jimmy Carter who had declared that he wanted mandatory and universal coverage and had a plan that was nearly identical to mine had now been replaced by the President Carter who wanted to approach health insurance in incremental steps, over time, if certain cost containment benchmarks were met--and after the 1978 midterm elections.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.359 , Sep 14, 2009

Across-the-board cap on hospital charge annual increases

In his first address to Congress after succeeding Nixon, President Gerald Ford urged lawmakers to approve a national health insurance bill, but President Ford's short tenure was dominated by high inflation and other economic woes.

Jimmy Carter also focused on inflation when he became president in 1977. Even though he had supported universal coverage during his campaign, President Carter decided that his first foray into health care would be an attempt to rein in costs, not expand coverage. In the previous decade, the consumer price index had increased by 79.7%, while hospital costs had risen 237%. President Carter proposed an across-the-board cap on hospital charges that would limit annual increases to 1.5 times any rise in the consumer price index.

Source: Critical, by Tom Daschle, p. 66 , Feb 19, 2008

Pushed national health-insurance bill

Carter was not successful in gaining support for his national health-insurance bill or his proposals for welfare reform and controls on hospital costs. He was unsuccessful also in gaining congressional approval of plans to consolidate natural- resource agencies within the Department of the Interior and expanded economic development units in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Also, his tax-reform proposals were not favorably received by Congress.
Source: Grolier’s Encyclopedia, “The Presidency” , Dec 25, 2000

National health insurance addresses gross inequities on poor

On national health insurance, we have an abominable system in this country for the delivery of health care, with gross inequities toward the poor-particularly the working poor-and profiteering by many hospitals of the ill.

The buffer between expensive medical care and patients' ability to pay at the time of illness is provided by insurers. Many people have no hesitation about unnecessarily entering a hospital, receiving expensive diagnoses while they are there, staying an extra day or two, and accepting the most elaborate service and treatment. Some even see it as a way to get back their investment in the insurance premiums.

At that point, both doctors and hospital owners benefit, while the patient is an unwitting contributor to higher medical costs and inequitable distribution of medical care. From the enormous profits, unnecessary hospital facilities can be built. Normal competitive restraints on excessive costs are almost nonexistent.

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p. 85 , Jun 24, 1977

Lost to lobbyists on hospital-cost containment law

For most of my term, I fought the hospital and medical lobbyists, trying to initiate hospital-cost containment measures designed to insure adequate health care at a reasonable expense. This was not an unproven idea. Several states had already implemented such a system, with notable results: much lower costs to patients and adequately sustained profits for the hospitals and doctors.

I was never able to succeed in this effort, which would have saved the American people more than $50 billion (!) in the first 5 years-after leaving the hospitals free to raise their prices 50% faster than the prevailing inflation rate. In the final showdown, Congress was flooded with money, in the form of campaign contributions from the health industry.

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p. 87 , Jun 24, 1977

Liberal on National Health Insurance

Carter’s politics fit no simple category. He could be conservative on abortion and welfare reform and taxes, and simplifying the federal bureaucracy, liberal on programs like National Health Insurance, Day Care, ERA, cutting the defense budget. Like Robert Kennedy, he became a new kind of liberal, leapfrogging over the old liberalism he thought to be obsolete, unworkable, divisive. He questioned the old shibboleths of welfare and federal paternalism.
Source: [X-ref Principles] How Jimmy Won, by Kandy Stroud, p. 13 , Jan 1, 1977

Supports national health insurance

Source: Public Health speech, in “Good As Its People,” p. 231-33 , Oct 19, 1976

Supports more funding for education & research

Source: Public Health speech, in “Good As Its People,” p. 231-33 , Oct 19, 1976

Nationwide comprehensive mandatory health insurance

Carter says he favors a nationwide, comprehensive mandatory health insurance program. His plan is that such a program would be financed through both the employer and the payroll taxes, as well as general revenue taxes. Patients would still be free to choose their own physician, but the federal government would set doctor's fees and establish controls to monitor the cost and quality of health care. Carter's proposal is very similar to the Kennedy-Corman health security bill now before Congress. Interested in promoting preventive medicine, Carter would also like to have more supportive personnel, as paraprofessionals and nurse practitioners, available to patients.
Source: Jimmy Who?, by Leslie Wheeler, p.190-191 , Jan 1, 1976

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Other past presidents on Health Care: Jimmy Carter on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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V.P.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022