[Commentary ]“The Crisis in American Medicine” Redux | Harper's Magazine

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“The Crisis in American Medicine” Redux


In his speech before the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009, Barack Obama noted that there is nothing new about the challenges facing would-be health-care reformers:

The other day, my friend, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, handed me a magazine with a special issue titled, “The Crisis in American Medicine.” One article notes “soaring charges.” Another warns about the “volume of utilization of services.” And another asks if we can find a “better way [than fee-for-service] for paying for medical care.” It speaks to many of the challenges we face today. The thing is, this special issue was published by Harper’s Magazine in October of 1960.

Members of the American Medical Association—my fellow Americans—I am here today because I do not want our children and their children to still be speaking of a crisis in American medicine fifty years from now.

Readers interested in how little has changed in the last fifty years can read “The Politics of Medicine” from that issue, or Bernard DeVoto’s “Letter to a Family Doctor,” from 1951–or my own take on the matter, “Sick in the Head: Why America won’t get the health-care system it needs,” which I invite future presidents to consider with equal rue.

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