After a hiatus in the early to mid-1980s, a growing number of policy leaders, policy organizations, and citizen groups are advocating programs that ensure basic medical care for all. Although a large literature examines the applicability to the U.S. of national medical care programs that have been established in other countries from the perspective of operations and effectiveness, little attention has been given to the applicability of the experience of other nations in securing these programs. This paper examines the development of national programs in the U.K. and Canada and addresses two questions. First, what factors were critical to the establishment of the British National Health Service and the Canadian hospital and physician insurance programs? Second, how applicable are those factors to current conditions in the U.S.? The paper reviews the roles played by dislocations in society, by established models of state-sponsored medical care programs, by political institutions and leaders, and by the major medical sectors. It shows that the U.S., while differing in many particulars, presents several parallels to the U.K. and Canada. The paper argues that the current environment in the U.S. offers the nation the opportunity to develop at state or local levels government-sponsored programs that guarantee basic medical benefits to all. A new and powerful coalition, moreover, may in the coming years advance the cause of broader, more substantive change at the national level.

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