By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 10/29/2009 12:16:18 PM ET 2009-10-29T16:16:18

Claim: When Teddy Roosevelt ran as the Progressive presidential candidate in 1912, he backed national health insurance.

Democrats who want to overhaul the nation’s health insurance system cite Theodore Roosevelt as their precursor. A national health insurance system, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is "something we have been trying to do since Teddy Roosevelt." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a system which provides everyone with health insurance is "what Teddy Roosevelt led the way with." Their implication: National health insurance isn't a new or radical idea; a famous Republican supported it almost 100 years ago.

Fact or fiction?
Fact. Roosevelt, president from 1901 to 1909, ran as the Progressive Party candidate in 1912, having abandoned the Republican Party after feuding with the man he'd picked to succeed him, William Howard Taft. The Progressive platform called for "the protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use." But University of Virginia political scientist Sidney Milkis, author of the new book "Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy," said there was no detailed discussion of health insurance during the campaign, either by Roosevelt or his opponents. And national health insurance in 1912 would have been a smaller enterprise than today: Long before the development of such advances as coronary bypass surgery and antibiotics, medical care was far more limited than today.

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