Ahead of his time?

Zeeland native pushed for national health care before he was against it.
Kevin Collier
Dec 16, 2013

Long before the “Obamacare” debate, Zeeland native Paul De Kruif advocated and campaigned for the adoption of a national health law by 1940.

He actually pioneered the debate, which initially proposed the idea of government intervention.

Author of the popular 1926 book “Microbe Hunters,” Paul Henry de Kruif was born March 2, 1890, in Zeeland to Dutch farm implement dealer Hendrik De Kruif and his wife, Hendrika. He was an American microbiologist and author whose writings became an inspiration for many aspiring physicians and scientists.

De Kruif’s criticism of health care in the United States began in his 1922-published book, “Our Medicine Men.” In the following years, he started to think a cooperative with the federal government might be a solution to what he saw as a health care crisis.

By 1937, De Kruif was making public speeches advocating socialized medicine.

In a speech at Stanford University in California on March 3, 1937, De Kruif stated, “Socialized medicine will not be a success in the United States until the country is completely socialized.”

“Any consideration of private profit is an infamy in the matter of relief or suffering and prevention of disease,” De Kruif stated, according to an Associated Press article, which covered his speech. “The present status of the doctor as a little capitalist may be effective for coughs and headaches, but it can never prove satisfactory against such highly contagious diseases.”

By late 1939, De Kruif was in the news again as the pioneer and advocate of a “national health care law.” That same year, The Associated Press issued a series of articles in which De Kruif was now stating health care was a “human right.”

“The essential principals of the proposed health law articulated by Mr. De Kruif would call for the establishment of adequate medical care as the ‘fifth human right,’ taking its place alongside the rights to food, shelter, clothing and fuel,” The Associated Press reported Dec. 13, 1939.

The measure called for federal aid to states, where needed, for both preventative and curative work — but without “regimentation for federalization” of the practice of medicine.

De Kruif was the first to suggest that the nation was suffering from a national health care “crisis.”

Following the public discourse initiated by De Kruif, by 1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to explicitly state that health care was a “human right.” The president called for “a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.”

Although Franklin died the following year and his “second Bill of Rights” never became a reality, his widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, continued the debate.

Then Paul De Kruif changed his view, as he now saw government involvement could be a possible takeover of the health care system at large.

On Oct. 8, 1949, De Kruif made headlines again in the national health care debate proclaiming he would “aid the nation’s doctors” in what he saw now as “a fight against socialized medicine.” De Kruif had joined the American Medical Association in its struggle against government encroachment.

“Socialized medicine would soon destroy the initiative of doctors and take much of the inspiration from the medical research,” he said in an Associated Press interview.

“Already there is too much governmental control exerted in research,” De Kruif added. “But most of all, socialized medicine would be the entering wedge to socialism on a broad scale.”

And the debate continues today.

The Affordable Health Care Act was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

After retirement, the pioneer of the national health care debate, Paul Henry De Kruif, moved to Holland. He died there of a heart attack on Feb. 28, 1971. He was 80.



“The Republicans … will try to make people believe that everything the Government has done for the country is socialism. They will go to the people and say: "Did you see that social security check you received the other day—you thought that was good for you, didn't you? That's just too bad! That's nothing in the world but socialism. Did you see that new flood control dam the Government is building over there for the protection of your property? Sorry—that's awful socialism! That new hospital that they are building is socialism. Price supports, more socialism for the farmers! Minimum wage laws? Socialism for labor! Socialism is bad for you, my friend. Everybody knows that. And here you are, with your new car, and your home, and better opportunities for the kids, and a television set—you are just surrounded by socialism! Now the Republicans say, ‘That's a terrible thing, my friend, and the only way out of this sinkhole of socialism is to vote for the Republican ticket.’"

~Harry Truman


My opinion.

Wealth has no place in determining a basic human right to equality of health. Wealthy? You can buy health... or at least prolong it. Poor? You accept what you are allowed and fight a poor man's battle to survive. The stupid things we argue about... makes no sense.

Former Grandhavenite

De Kruif's about face on health care cannot be understood without looking at the historical context of the time in which it happened. Prior to FDR's death, World War II was still raging, Americans were (for the most part) united in the desire to win the war and to make things better for the entire country, rich or poor.

In 1949 when he came out against universal health care, the Red Scare was beginning since now the Soviets were beginning to be considered 'the enemy'. Any public statements on record that could be interpreted as socialist-leaning were a major detriment to one's career and life given the atmosphere of persecution of left-leaning beliefs. He was just switching his public pronouncements to match the politically correct views of his time, whether or not he actually changed his opinion on the issue.

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