In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This landmark legislation brought over a century of health care reform debate in the United States to a new incarnation. In 1973, an attempt to pass legislation similar in nature to the ACA was introduced in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Congressman Harley O. Staggers, Sr., of West Virginia.
The first efforts to create national health care programs were rooted in the Progressive Era beginning in the early 20th century with attempts to pass legislation beginning in the 1910s and achieving some success with the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935.
Eight years before Staggers’ health care bill, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965, creating Medicare and Medicaid. These programs represented the most significant effort up to that time to implement a national health care system in the United States, building upon the foundation of the 1935 act. However, proponents of a more robust program felt that Medicare and Medicaid did not go far enough to provide health care for American citizens.
Despite the inclusion of ideas which had been debated in Congress for over a decade and its modeling on earlier acts proposed by Senator Ted Kennedy and others, Staggers’ bill died in committee. While the bill was being reviewed in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 1974, Congress’ attention was captured by the Watergate Scandal. Within the committee, Staggers was facing challenges from members of his own party and, following that fall’s election, he lost his subcommittee chair to freshman Congressman John Moss (D-CA).
The National Comprehensive Health Benefits Act never made it to the floor for a vote, and Congressman Harley Staggers, Sr., later became nationally recognized for his work in transportation reform. However, his work on this bill and other health care incentives impacted the debates regarding national health care in the United States long after he left office in 1980.
 Palmer, Karen. “A Brief History: Universal Health Care Efforts in the US.” Physicians for a National Health Program. January 1, 1999. Accessed September 2, 2014.