In 1943, the United States government began paying for medical, nursing, and hospital maternity and infant care provided to the wives of enlisted men in the lowest four military pay grades. The
known as EMIC, funded the care of about 1-1/2 million women and infants from 1943 to 1949. Although opponents questioned whether EMIC was a dangerous form of “socialized medicine,” patriotism—and the fact that this was presented as an emergency measure—overrode their opposition. There was widespread legislative support.
EMIC answered a demonstrated need. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States' entrance into World War II, the size of the military expanded rapidly. Over 16 million Americans saw service during the war. The wives of soldiers and sailors moved with them to military bases and lived far from home and family on low pay. Men in grade 7, for example, the lowest pay grade, earned only $50 a month, although base pay increased annually. Lacking the means to pay for medical care during and after their pregnancies or to cover the costs when their babies fell ill and needed services, families turned to state programs supported by the Social Security Administration and to local charities, but these did not underwrite the full costs of charitable care.
From our vantage point we can look back on EMIC as a successful program in terms of the care that it delivered—but as an ultimate failure precisely because it met its goals. Eliot and others viewed EMIC as the first step on the way to a broader national program underwriting infant and child health. It was a successful demonstration of how to efficiently deliver medical care. Families that could not afford but wanted hospital deliveries had access to them. For the wives of African American servicemen in particular, the EMIC program brought vastly improved access to medical services.