Surgeon General Thomas Parran Jr was once viewed as a path-breaking leader, but his legacy is now highly contested. Scholars of national health insurance have viewed Parran as an impediment to government-backed insurance, and revelations about his role in the Tuskegee Study and in the Public Health Service's experiments in Guatemala have cast a shadow over his career. Surgeon General from 1936 to 1948, Parran led the Public Health Service during the development of key features of the modern American health system and was involved in critical debates over the role of the national government in health. I argue that Parran is best understood not as an opponent of insurance but as the proponent of an approach to health policy that sought to link public health and individual medicine. A pragmatic bureaucrat, Parran believed that effective policymaking required compromise with the American Medical Association.