For All the People: A century of Citizen Action in Health Care Reform is an Exhibit from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The Charles R. Drew Health Sciences Library hosted the exhibit from February 16 - March 26, 2016. The exhibit was on display for all faculty, staff, students, and people in our community. Health care reform has been a contentious political issue in the United States for more than a hundred years. Even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which expanded access to health insurance coverage for millions of people, Americans continue to disagree on whether and how to make quality health care available to all.
* All information and pictures are provided from NLM. For more in-depth look at this exhibit, please go to: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/forallthepeople/exhibition0.html
From the beginning of the 20th century to today, citizens have made their voices heard in these debates. Health care reform is usually associated with presidents and national leaders, but this exhibition tells the lesser-known story of how movements of ordinary people helped shape the changing American health care system.
Early in the 20th century, rapid industrialization, new waves of immigration, and growing labor unrest made the health of workers and the poor a matter of national concern. Working people protested dangerous and unhealthy conditions, started worker-owned clinics and hospitals, and advocated for health insurance coverage. African Americans, excluded from mainstream medical care, also created their own health care institutions in the face of segregation.
Since the 1960s, social movements have defined health rights as essential to ending the second-class status of marginalized groups. The feminist health movement advanced a powerful critique of traditional medicine, insisting on women’s knowledge and control of their own bodies. Disability rights activists fought discrimination, and the AIDS movement transformed medical research and drug development while defending the civil and human rights of communities devastated by the epidemic.
Citizen groups worked with doctors and nurses to find ways to extend medical care to more people. Starting in the 1920s, health care became more expensive, putting medical advances beyond the reach of many Americans. Attempts to establish a national system of insurance repeatedly failed, but activist citizens and health professionals worked to expand access by creating public health services, developing new types of coverage, and fighting hospital discrimination.
Activists helped push for health programs and called attention to disparities in medical care. In the 1960s, civil rights activists and senior citizens advocated for Medicare and Medicaid, the first national health programs in the United States. Following the end of legal segregation by race, citizen groups began targeting continuing racial and economic inequalities in health. Radical social movements went even further in defining community-based health care as an essential component of their visions for a new society.
The participation of grassroots groups in battles over health care reform continues in 21st century. Activism helped shape the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which outlawed most types of insurance discrimination and extended health coverage to many of the uninsured. Citizens’ groups faced off at town meetings during the battle over “Obamacare,” and are playing a major role in the debate over the constitutionality and implementation of the law. New types of citizen action have also emerged to address new health care challenges, from illness and disability among military veterans to the rising number of elderly in the United State.