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Reform Does Come

Justin Sullivan/Getty

We don’t know that we can communicate our emotions at seeing the Johnson New Deal sweeping through Congress. You have to spend a lifetime in Washington to understand, almost believing that great social reforms can’t come. Then they do come.

Take medicare. Every industrial nation on earth is ahead of us on this. Emperor Franz Josef backed it. Bismarck introduced it in Prussia and the conservatives enacted it; why? To block socialism! The richest nation on earth avoided it, probably because we were the richest. “We don’t need health care here; we have the highest medical competence in the world!” people said. How many realize that right now, today, America ranks eleventh in infant mortality?—not a record for money bags to brag about.

Doctors are the nicest people on earth and yet, from first to last, the AMA fought progress. Federal aid to states in 1930 to reduce infant mortality, AMA said, “tended to promote Communism.” It called FDR’s original social security act a “cruel hoax” in 1935, (The NAM said it meant “ultimate socialistic control of life and industry.”) In 1939 came the Railroad Retirement and Unemployment system. “A definite step toward either Communism or totalitarianism,” said AMA’s spokesman.

Doughty little Harry Truman in 1945 saw Congress defeat his national compulsory health insurance plan. “This opposition has only delayed and cannot stop it,” he said. Gradually social security broadened. “A serious threat to American medicine,” mourned AMA. In 1953, the government required that the states’ crippled children’s services should provide diagnostic services for any child, rich or poor, “Socialistic!” said AMA.

Poor old Ike made his own special recommendations on health, recoiling from the idea of compulsory insurance. He just wanted limited government reinsurance to enable private companies to broaden their coverage. The AMA told a House committee it could be “the opening wedge toward socialized medicine.” The House killed it, 238- 134 in 1954.

If we sound moved, try to imagine living a professional lifetime in Washington, reporting items like that. America only discovered “poverty” in the last three or four years. Congress, you remember, rejected a Kennedy health care bill for the elderly a couple of years ago.

The current bill covers those of 65 or over. It’s been a long, slow way. But can anybody seriously believe that AMA will cease crying “Socialism,” or that progress will stop with the oldsters?