A TALE OF TWO FRACTURES
Last week, I observed that many 2020-22 Americans, who consider themselves more sophisticated than their 1950s counterparts, nonetheless embraced Coronamania’s nonsensical lockdowns, school closures masks, testing and vaxxes.
What cultural changes caused people to go from the radical, “anti-Establishment” 1960s and cynical Watergate/post-Vietnam/“Do your own thing” 1970s to the gullible, government-believing/medical expert-worshiping 2020s?
As usual, I’ll begin with a contextualizing, slice-of-life story; two prosaic stories this time, which occurred fifty years apart.
In 1972, my father was an electrician in an auto assembly plant. His employer provided hospitalization coverage for our family. My parents paid any other medical or dental bills out-of-pocket. That winter, I broke my leg doing sports. After an exam, x-rays and the application of a full-leg plaster cast, my mother wrote the Friday night, on-call, non-hospital general practitioner, oddly named Dr. Ailes, a check for $400. I felt guilty that my parents spent a week of my father’s take-home pay on me. But at least his employer didn’t pay anywhere near $23,000/year in insurance premiums to cover a family, as do today’s employers. So presumably, my father, and millions of others like him, got more take home pay than if his employer had paid the high premiums for all-inclusive medical insurance. And his employer could afford the wages/benefits of 5,700 American workers at his Mahwah, NJ plant. Until it couldn’t; the plant closed in late June, 1980.
In contrast, in 2022, my 30-year-old daughter broke her leg when she was struck, at low speed, by a car in the South Bronx, where she teaches at a public charter high school. Though her x-ray showed a fracture less thorough than mine, her medical bills, including for an operation, exceeded $35,000, against which she made a comparatively tiny insurance copayment.
The way medicine is paid for and, thus, practiced has changed dramatically since 1960. After 1965, when Medicare and Medicaid began, both publicly and employer-based funded medical insurance coverage expanded continuously. More people were insured and, gradually, were covered for a wider range of treatments. Overall, medical expenditures increased from 5 percent of GDP in 1960 to 19.7 percent in 2022. One of every five American dollars is now spent on medicine.