Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A prominent Republican's views on health-care reform - in 1974

[From Loma Linda University Scope, summer 1974]
This afternoon while looking through old file folders, I came across the opening page of a 1974 article by Caspar Weinberger called "An honest look at needed reforms in America's health care."

Weinberger was chairman of the California Republican party from 1962-68 and served as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Defense from 1981-87. When he wrote the article I found, he was Richard Nixon's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. His Republican credentials could not be stronger.

Here are some stunning paragraphs from Weinberger:
This can and must be a year of responsible reform for our nation's health care financing system. Right now, 25 million Americans have no health insurance protection at all. Millions more have coverage that is clearly inadequate.

Right now, medical costs are threatening to once again climb at a steep rate, following last month's ending of price controls.

Right now, there are communities and neighborhoods in our nation without doctor or dispensary....

What we need, to close the current gaps, is a national program of comprehensive health insurance.

Such a program must not only cover everybody. It must also ensure quality care, and end the wasteful misuse of our medical resources that our present patch-work coverage encourages.

This misuse is costing us heavily. And it is directly traceable to gaps in insurance coverage....
Nearly forty years ago, one of the nation's most prominent Republicans thought we needed - immediately! - a total overhaul of health-care financing that, truth be told, sounds a lot like what Hillary Clinton proposed in 1993, and far more radical than the Affordable Care Act.

So what has changed since 1974, when responsible health-care reform was urgently needed?

The percent of uninsured Americans has increased. In 2012, 48 million Americans were uninsured. That's 15.4% of the population, compared to the 8.5 percent that were uninsured when Weinberger wrote.

Medical costs have soared. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, "the share of economic activity (gross domestic product, or GDP) devoted to health care has increased from 7.2% in 1970 to 17.9% in 2009 and 2010. Health care costs per capita have grown an average 2.4 percentage points faster than the GDP since 1970."

We still have a physician shortage, and it's getting worse.

What has changed, it seems, is the Republican Party.

I wish I had the rest of Secretary Weinberger's article. It was published in the Summer 1974 issue of Loma Linda University's Scope, but their online archive does not include this issue. I have the one page only because it was the reverse side of the last page of an article by my father. Ironically, the title of my father's article was "A theology of hope."

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