I’m Sorry, the Doctor Is Busy Making Money

In Critical Condition: The Crisis in America’s Health Care

by Edward Kennedy
Simon and Schuster, 252 pp., $6.95

The Biological Imperatives: Health, Politics, and Human Survival

by Allan Chase
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 399 pp., $8.95

Away with All Pests: An English Surgeon in People’s China, 1954-1969

by Dr. Joshua S. Horn
Monthly Review, 192 pp., $2.45 (paper)

I am horrified,” Senator Kennedy writes, “that we in America have created a health care system that can be so callous to human suffering, so intent on high salaries and profits, and so unconcerned for the needs of our people.” His book In Critical Condition is largely excerpts from the testimony taken by his Subcommittee on Health as it toured the country to promote the Kennedy-Griffiths Health Security Act, the most comprehensive of the several health insurance bills now before Congress, and the one supported by Senator McGovern (see box on next page).

We hear testimony from a Mr. Johnson of Chicago, whose ten-year-old son died in convulsions after a private hospital refused to treat the boy until Mr. Johnson could prove he could pay the bill. Mr. Tresky of Garfield Heights, Ohio, describes the $5,200 medical bill for his wife’s kidney disease that is draining his $140 a week salary, although he carried Blue Cross and another medical plan before his wife got sick. Others were callously ejected from hospitals in the middle of illnesses because they ran out of funds. Some were bankrupted by medical bills, submitted to unnecessary operations for the sake of a physician’s profit, or were treated like scum in a municipal hospital because they could not go anywhere else.

One of these real-life stories supporting the liberal attack on health care in America comes not from one of the witnesses before the Senate subcommittee but from Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa:

Last year in the state of Virginia my second daughter was seized one night with severe pain in the abdomen. We called an ambulance. We rushed her to a hospital, where we could get no medical help because we couldn’t find a doctor who knew us. The doctor whom we called on—and, as a United States Senator, I called the Senate physician—couldn’t make a recommendation to me. The pain was almost impossible to bear, yet they would give her absolutely nothing to relieve the pain. Seven hours later I was calling physicians in Des Moines, Iowa, trying to find out the types of pain relievers and drugs given to her during earlier illnesses…. When finally medical care was found and a diagnosis was made, she had suffered from an inversion of the small intestine, and gangrene set in three days later.

I threatened a doctor in the hallway of that hospital and told him I’d break his neck if he didn’t come in and do something about my daughter.

At the end of each chapter of testimony in Kennedy’s book he gives us an unexceptional statement, in the style of a political speech, of his conviction on the problem, such as, “No American in our affluent age should be forced to mortgage everything he owns for health care” or “People who are injured, sick and frightened should not have to pound on the system’s doors, overcoming obstacles, to reach health care.”

Unquestionably …

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Letters

Medical Problems November 30, 1972