One of our oldest debates

I. L. GARFINKLE

December 02, 1991|By I. L. Garfinkle

RESOLVED: The United States should adopt a system of socialized medicine."

Tomorrow's headline? No. That was the subject for interscholastic debate competition at Texas high schools around 1941.

Of course, we debaters had to be able to argue either the affirmative or negative, and even though most of us favored the affirmative, it was easier to win from the negative side.

It was only a few years before that President Roosevelt and his New Dealers had managed to establish the Social Security system despite the skepticism of our parents and teachers who had elected him president and despite the screaming and wailing of those unreconstructed political leaders who were being dragged into the 20th century. (They were all Democrats. No one in Texas would admit to being a Republican in those days.)

The prevailing feeling about Social Security then, in fact about "social" anything, was that no one was likely to live to see it work, and, if it did, it would cost us more in taxes than we would ever get back in benefits. A pension from the government for paying in a few dollars a month? Absurd! Free hospital and medical care? Ridiculous!

But we debaters did our research and made our notes on index cards. To us "socialized medicine" was for real. We were going to make the judges and the audience see that "socialized medicine" was a possibility.

Or, on the other hand, could anyone possibly conceive of a doctor working for the government? Impossible. In those days your family doctor made house calls and didn't send you to a specialist unless you needed surgery or had a fatal disease.

Besides, as the doctors used to explain, "The rich have to pay for the poor," so their bills were based on what they thought each patient was able to pay.

Today we can look back and see that this benevolent system had many shortcomings, out of which grew our present system of health insurance.

Now we find that this system, which is mostly paid for by employers, not only falls short of covering everyone, but is beginning to become a burdensome and uncontrollable expense.

So we are witnessing what is shaping up in Washington as a debate on what the politicians are calling "comprehensive health coverage." Fifty years ago we called it "socialized medicine."

And now to continue to extend my list of many public-spirited projects, I am offering my senators and all Maryland congressional representatives full access to my 50-year-old index cards.

This should help save their staffs time and expense on research and preparation for the coming debate.

I. L. Garfinkle is retired and lives in Baltimore.

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