The Hill–Burton Act


ANNCR: The Hill–Burton Act – on Today's Congressional Moment.

Few people remember this today, but universal health–care was on the national agenda six decades ago. President Harry Truman tried, and failed, to convince the Congress to pass universal coverage. What he got instead was the Hill–Burton Act, the federal government's first venture into building hospitals.

The act is named for its two sponsors in the Senate, Lister Hill, a democrat from Alabama — whose physician father was the first American to suture a human heart — and Harold Burton, a republican from Ohio. They recognized that existing hospitals had been neglected during the years of the Depression and World War II, and that there was a desperate need for clinics and small hospitals, particularly in poor, rural areas.

Their bill was path–breaking. It required facilities getting federal funds to provide medical services free or at reduced rates for people unable to pay. The measure also increased access to health care for Americans at a time when private capital for investment in hospitals was scarce. Over the years, the act pumped billions of dollars into projects and equipment in 4,000 communities around the country. Especially if you live in a rural county, odds are good that the hospital or clinic you visit today was built using Hill–Burton funds.

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