Health care history through humor

October 25, 2012
With more than 200 examples of the century's best political art, 'The Quest for Health Care Reform: A Satirical History' provides an entertaining review of 100 years of partisan wrangling over medical insurance. Credit: University of Rochester

Featuring more than 200 examples of the century's best political art, a new history of health care reform provides an entertaining review of 100 years of partisan wrangling – from Theodore Roosevelt's support for protection from the "hazards of sickness" in 1912 to the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

"Political cartoons cut to the essence of our battle over who should foot the bill for medical coverage and how that care should be structured," explains Theodore Brown, one the four authors of The Quest for Reform: A Satirical History due out in October 2012. "But unlike the pain involved in our political struggle, cartoons deliver their uncomfortable truths with such irreverent wit and visual imagination that you can't help but chuckle."

Brown, a historian of medicine, public health, and health policy at the University of Rochester, provides the historical context for each cartoon and authored introductory chapters on early health care reform efforts. He says the book's broad sweep helps to bring into focus many of the themes and political patterns that surface over and over throughout the decades. The "political use of fear, hope, selective memory, and outright distortion will be seen as running threads in our history," he writes in the book's preface.

"Political cartoons cut to the essence of our battle over who should foot the bill for medical coverage and how that care should be structured," explains Theodore Brown, one the four authors of 'The Quest for Health Care Reform: A Satirical History.' "But unlike the pain involved in our political struggle, cartoons deliver their uncomfortable truths with such irreverent wit and visual imagination that you can't help but chuckle." Credit: University of Rochester

From the first decades of the 20th century, critics sought to brand universal medical coverage as "un-American" and "socialistic." Government health care was derided as "Germanic" after World War I, as revolutionary following the Russian Revolution (1917), and as a subversive plot engineered by the Kremlin during the McCarthy era. Long before accusations about "death panels" surfaced during the 2009 debate, opponents decried federal financed medical insurance as "state medicine" and as early as the 1920s the American Medical Association characterized any government plan as "robotic."

While many of the overarching themes have remained the same, the complexity of the nation's health delivery system and the number and financial power of special interests has mushroomed in recent decades, says Brown. From pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies to hospitals, physicians, and patient rights groups, the debate has grown more complex and confusing for the public.

The video will load shortly
Featuring more than 200 examples of the century's best political art, a new history of health care reform provides an entertaining review of 100 years of partisan wrangling over medical insurance. Credit: Matthew Mann/University of Rochester

It is precisely in this cacophony of competing perspectives that political cartoonists have offered some of our most brilliant social commentary, says coauthor Susan Ladwig, a public health professional at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Ladwig selected many of the cartoons for the history and has collaborated with Brown for years on presentations about the history of health care. Using visual metaphors, like depicting the public as a sick patient or the health care system as an overly complicated machine, these artists are able to home in on the underlying truths and self-interests that can otherwise be lost in daily news coverage, she explains.

"The book makes the whole complex topic of health care more accessible, even fun," says Ladwig. "Hopefully people are going to want to read this history. I hope they don't just skip over the narrative, but even if they just view the cartoons, they will come away with a better understanding of heath care reform. It may even change a few people's minds when they know the whole story."

The book brings together the work of more than 27 cartoonists, including 10 winners of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. Almost a fifth of the selections are the creation of Matt Wuerker, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning and a finalist for the award in 2010 and 2009. A founding staffer at Politico, Wuerker is known for lampooning partisan conflict in Washington. Other Pulitzer winners represented in the book include Mike Luckovich (2006, 1995), Nick Anderson (2005), Clay Bennett (2002), and Joel Pett (2000).

The Quest for : A Satirical History is the brainchild of Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, whose collection of close to 1,000 cartoons on health care laid the basis for the project. Coauthor Elyse Berkman, a graduate student in health policy at City University of New York, assisted with research.

Explore further: Massachusetts health-care reform increased access to care, particularly among disadvantaged

Related Stories

Massachusetts health-care reform increased access to care, particularly among disadvantaged

July 15, 2011
Recent research conducted at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health may have strong implications for informing the controversial debate currently surrounding national health care reform.

Massachusetts health-care reform associated with increased demand for medical safety-net facilities

August 9, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Patient demand for care from safety-net providers (such as community health centers and public hospitals) in Massachusetts has increased, even though the number of patients with health insurance also increased ...

Obama defends health care, mum on court case

March 30, 2012
President Barack Obama defended his signature health care reform Friday, without discussing a Supreme Court case that could spell its end ahead of November's presidential elections.

Republicans try to block funds for US health care reform

September 29, 2011
Republicans in the House of Representatives unveiled a bill Thursday that would block funding for President Barack Obama's health care reform as long as it is contested in the courts.

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.