Of Mutts and Medicare

MEYER, KARL E.

WASHINGTON-U.S.A. Of Mutts and By Karl E. Meyer Free enterprise, American style, is not without its triumphs; it may nave failed the aged and infirm, but it spreads its beneficences...

...The Government itself would provide no care, hire no doctors and offer no services...
...The AMA purports to speak for 180,000 doctors, but in fact it is the voice of a tiny clique...
...Thirty governors have endorsed the King-Anderson approach, the New York Times has given its benediction, and some 700 groups representing 600,000 politically active oldsters are campaigning for the plan...
...Too often, costly care for the aged comes out of the pocket of relatives who must sacrifice their children's education in order to enjoy the felicities of free enterprise...
...Actually, the AMA has achieved the not inconsiderable feat of making American medicine look far worse than it is...
...Air conditioned...
...Though it speaks continually about freedom, the AMA reacts to internal dissent with the tolerance of a Torquemada...
...Moreover, they point out, the problem is not in helping the impecunious but in preventing those of moderate income from being bankrupt...
...Some Americans manage to rise above sentiment when the helpless and dependent are merely people...
...9 and immortalized in Our Puppy's Baby Book, with spaces provided for paw prints and such entries as "My First Birthday" and "My First Christmas...
...At present, the United States is in the company of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan in lacking any national program of health insurance...
...Yet this same society is currently in the midst of a political uproar over a health-care plan for aged humans that involves an average payment per worker of about $ 1 a month through Social Security...
...Nine out of 10 of the aged face the pleasant prospect of being hospitalized at least once for an average stay of 14.9 days...
...Byrd has reportedly told the President: "You can have the trade bill or you can have the Medicare bill, but you cannot have both...
...The AMA has called attention to these inadequacies, and a recent television counterattack has derided the plan as a "cruel hoax and a delusion...
...The doctors' lobby prefers the existing Kerr-Mills program, now adopted by 26 states, in which free medical care is provided only for those who take a pauper's oath: Anybody un-American enough not to pay his doctor's bills has to swallow the bitter pill of a means test...
...In New York, for example, you can outfit your Afghan hound in lace pyjamas ($25), false eyelashes ($3.95) or a custom-made grey chesterfield overcoat with a velvet collar and matching top hat (a bargain at $33.50...
...Even assuming the House of Representatives approves the plan, it will probably be left in limbo by the Senate Finance Committee headed by Senator Harry F. Byrd (D.-Va...
...Or your mastiff can be scented with Kennel No...
...And in a time when so many public issues are murky and ambiguous, this one is clear-cut: President Kennedy is trying to get the United States to accept a principle adopted long ago in every other major democracy...
...Nor is there any provision for drug costs, for expensive surgery or for the kind of cumulative doctors' bills that are a crushing burden on the aged...
...A few other services would also be paid for, but a prolonged terminal illness would still bankrupt the old and their younger relatives...
...Somehow, the American Medical Association (AMA) has persuaded many that one of the blessings of Our Way of Life consists of going broke paying doctor bills without any help from the Government...
...The plan would provide payments for hospital services for 90 days in each illness, subject to a deductible arrangement in which the patient would contribute $10 a day for up to nine days...
...In the fight at hand the President commands formidable support...
...Yet the help is urgently required by the aged...
...pet food alone outsells baby food by nearly two to one...
...In face of this, President Kennedy's plan, embodied in the KingAnderson bill, is a mild poultice applied timidly with mercurochrome...
...it may nave failed the aged and infirm, but it spreads its beneficences grandly on the dog...
...Certainly, madam...
...Yet realists feel that the odds are against Kennedy's winning the fight this year...
...Supporters of the King-Anderderson bill concede its limitations, but are frankly more interested in establishing the principle of health-care through Social Security than in debating details...
...it would only establish a modest program for helping to pay some bills...
...We do splendidly by Fido, but free enterprise is a heartless joke for those who have been kept alive by medical science only to find themselves savoring the pleasures of insolvency...
...Still, a good fight is being waged...
...The author, Toni Howard, notes that the classified telephone directory in Manhattan lists 115 hotels, country clubs, bath clubs and beauty shops for dogs, where hi-fi music soothes Wowser as his toes are manicured in emporia, with names like The Poodle Boutique and Bow Wow Glamor...
...The fuss over the health plan, which is nearing a showdown in Congress, is an anomaly that is difficult to explain except in terms of our country's remaining an underdeveloped area in its attitude toward doctors...
...Its real leverage lies in its power to deny hospital staff privileges, and case after case has been documented in which members have been disciplined for questioning the party line...
...In doing this, the AMA has managed the neat trick of at once condemning the bill because it does not go far enough and because anything the Government does under a compulsory plan would be a wicked invitation to creeping Socialism...
...The average doctor is not an ogre wringing pennies from the poor, and more often than not, the physicians you meet are defensive and apologetic about the AMA...
...Karl E. Meyer is a member of the editorial board of the Washington Post and Washington correspondent for the British New Statesman, where this article also appeared...
...Only about half of those over 65 have some hospitalization insurance, compared with about 70 per cent of younger peopleóbut private spending for medical care of persons past 65 is nearly twice as much as the rest of the population...
...All told, Americans, out of worthy sentiment, spend around $3 billion each year on pet furnishings and supplies...
...I came upon this important Americana in a recent issue of the Saturday Evening Post, in an article about canine affluence that some future Gibbon may consult with profit...
...In the past, the AMA has opposed virtually every collective effort to help provide medical care, including group health, private hospital insurance and free immunization against polio...
...The plan would offer benefits immediately only to about 14.7 million persons who are over 65, and it would benefit them skimpily...
...A society can be judged by its treatment of animals and the aged...
...They want to provide health assistance as a right that can be claimed without loss of self-respect to the aged...

Vol. 45 • June 1962 • No. 13


 
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