Tag Archives: healthcare

Claude Pepper and the National Institutes of Health

This Tuesday, April 7, was World Health Day, and to celebrate, we’re shining a spotlight on the work of Senator Claude Pepper and his role in expanding the National Institutes of Health. Established in 1887, the primary location of the National Institute of Health is based in Bethesda, Maryland. Originally known as the Hygienic Laboratory, it was re-designated in 1930 to the NIH. Claude Pepper was elected to the United States Senate seven years later. At that time, apart from the National Institute of Health, only the National Cancer Institute functioned as national research institutions for combating infectious disease.

In 1943, the United States was in the midst of a global war against the Axis Powers. In the States, advances in medicine were needed both at home and on the battlefield. That year, the Senate Subcommittee on Wartime Health and Education was formed to address the health and education challenges then facing the United States. Having a keen interest in securing healthcare for all Americans, Pepper would be appointed chair of the Health and Education Subcommittee, and he made it his mission to secure greater funding for and expand the scope of the Institute. Within the year, the National Cancer Institute would become a division of the National Institute, and in 1948, the name was changed once more to the National Institutes of Health.

Pamphlet included in a packet created by the Health and Education Subcommittee on the National Institutes of Health, March 1949. Claude Pepper Papers, MSS 1979-01, S. 431A B. 12 F. 16
Pamphlet included in a packet created by the Health and Education Subcommittee on the National Institutes of Health, March 1949. Claude Pepper Papers, MSS 1979-01, S. 431A B. 12 F. 16

By 1950, Senator Pepper would serve as the chief sponsor for 5 additional Institutes including the National Institutes of:

  • Mental Health
  • Heart, Lungs and Blood
  • Allergy and Infectious Disease
  • Neurological and Communicative Disorders
  • Arthritis, Diabetes, and Digestive & Kidney Diseases

“Background on the Nation’s Health” – a report generated for the Health and Education Subcommittee on the National Institutes of Health prepared in March of 1949. Claude Pepper Papers, MSS 1979-01 S. 431A B. 12 F. 16

With his political career ended for a time in late 1950, Pepper would be out of politics until he ran for and won a US House seat in 1962. This brief period outside of national politics did nothing to slow him down, however. Between 1961 and 1974, there were five more institutes established:

  • Child Health & Human Development
  • General Medical Sciences
  • Environmental Health Services
  • National Eye Institute
  • the National Institute on Aging

In 1967, Pepper was presented with the Albert and Mary Laskin Award. Presented to those individuals who have made major contributions to the field or medical science or to those performing great public service on behalf of medicine, Pepper was awarded for serving as the principal sponsor for all but one National Institute of Health (Dental Research) from 1950 to 1967.

The Albert and Mary Lasker Award, presented to Representative Claude Pepper for his work in promoting public health awareness. November 9, 1967. Claude Pepper Papers, MSS 1979-01

The National Institutes of Health are currently made up of 27 member institutions across the United States, each with a specific research agenda, though all with the same goal of improving the lives of Americans through medical advancement. Currently NIH researchers are engaged in efforts to combat the COVID-19 virus, and their website provides up to date information and helpful tips for keeping safe.

Pepper’s Work in Lowering Hearing Aid Costs

Recently, while engaging in a record survey project involving the Claude Pepper papers,  I discovered Pepper’s influential work in lowering hearing aid costs to improve affordability and strengthen precise hearing loss screenings among seniors.


Senator Claude Pepper was perhaps the first politician to grasp the burdens of older Americans owning hearing aids. In fact, many people that were 65 and older during his congressional service either couldn’t afford hearing aids, because their insurance didn’t cover the cost, or they were exposed to fraudulent tactics to purchase them. As sellers created the illusion that hearing aids could either physically cure hearing loss or prosthetically correct hearing loss to a state of normalcy. And, in some cases, older adults fell victim to purchasing two hearing aids for both ears when only one was necessary due to a faulty diagnosis. As a result, Claude Pepper took great pride in building awareness about hearing aids and affordability by introducing the H.R. 646 Bill on January 15, 1979, to propose a supplementary medical insurance program to aid in covering hearing aid costs and safeguard consumer abuse. The bill also pushed for hearing aid manufacturers to advertise that hearing aids could not cure or impede hearing impairments. The bill demanded that the Food and Drug Administration mandate the requirement of an audiologist examination before purchasing hearing aids under the Medicare program to secure accurate treatment. Senator Pepper fought hard for this great cause, even though Congress later decided to reject the bill.

If you would like to learn more about Claude Pepper’s work regarding hearing aid legislation, please visit the Claude Pepper Library & Museum. Materials are available for researchers and can be discovered online through the collection’s finding aid.